My friend Patty was a true healer. People came to her Lodge to earnestly pray for healing for themselves or their loved ones. Some people were dying when they came to her. Western doctors had told them it was time to get their affairs in order. One man had been given the last rites. He had been sent home to die. After his family went into Patti's Lodge, he recovered to spend one final year with his family. They even took a last vacation together. Some people recovered entirely and are still alive today. She herself left this world too early, leaving behind a grieving family and an enormous circle of broken-hearted friends strung around the country and the world.
Somehow I did not know that she was terminally ill. I only knew that she was in the hospital and her son was holding Lodge for her. When I got to the hospital, I was shocked and deeply dismayed. How could I have not known she was this gravely ill? I considered her my best friend. She had adopted me in the old way, so we were sisters. But somehow no one had told me the true nature of her illness. Maybe everyone assumed I knew. She was on life support. We could not speak to one another but the nurse assured me that Patti could hear me. I am certain I did not have wit enough to realize I was speaking to her for the last time in this life. All I could think of to say was that I loved her.
When I left the hospital, I went to her house. I walked in the back door like always, right into that wonderful cluttered mess of a house smelling of sage and sweet grass and essential oils and good cooking. The house was alive with her energy. But beyond that, it was as if she was right with me, looking through my eyes. I looked around her home, seeing the paintings and artwork on the walls, the beloved house plants, bookshelves and furniture covered with books and photos and items from a rather unusual lifetime. In addition to feeling my own grief, I was acutely aware of her deep mourning over possibly leaving this lifetime so unexpectedly and so soon. I felt how desperately she wanted to get out of that hospital bed and come home to her life. I felt how desperately she wanted to finish raising her youngest son, B. I almost buckled under the weight of her immense longing to see him raised to adulthood. I have never felt another's person's grief as acutely as I did in those few moments standing in Patti's house right then.
Later that day her family made the decision to remove Patti from life support. That night we gathered in the Lodge, all of us packed together to pray on behalf of a woman who had given every single one of us the means to heal ourselves and heal our lives. We each humbly asked the Creator to heal Patti. After the Lodge and sharing one last big meal together on her beautiful old dining table, her son said he was going to see his mother and we were welcome to come with him. It was late - well after midnight - and we were all red-eyed from crying and from being in the Lodge. We were bedraggled and quite likely seemed high. The hospital staff said nothing as too many people came into the ICU to speak to Patti. Each of us had a few moments to speak quietly to her though she was unconscious. I am sure we were all thinking she would recover the way so many others had recovered. She died the next afternoon. Someone called to give me the news.
In my grief at losing the only person I had ever considered a sister, in attempting to come to terms with the loss of someone who was an actual light in this dark world, someone who genuinely helped others, I was at a loss. Did Patti ever know how much I cared about her? Did she ever know how thankful I was for her in my life? Had I ever done anything to repay, even in the tiniest measure, the wonderful things she brought into my life?
One of the best things about having horses is that you can see them at any time of the day or night. You can have their big, equine, gentle comfort around you if you are grieving. Honestly, horses do not like to be around if your emotion is too jagged or too raw. They are sentient beings and their bodies are like big, beautiful emotion radars. While they never wanted me to lean on them to cry, they would stand quietly close by. One silent winter night, I was on the little ridge where the "barn" sits, grieving over Patti, my gentle horses nearby. It occurred to me that Patti's sons would no longer have the benefit of their mother's prayers in this world. There was something I could do to honor the memory of my friend and sister. Every time I prayed for my own children, I could pray for her sons as if they were my own. This idea brought me some small measure of peace and I spoke into the silence, telling Patti that I would do this on her behalf for the rest of my life. Across the winter pasture a breeze picked up. I could hear it making its way across the tall grass until it was all around me and the horses - a gentle, steady, pleasant breeze lifting my hair and drying my tears. I do not know if it was Patti who answered, or if the Creator simply took pity on me. It was pleasant and it was deeply comforting.
The rest of the story...
When I first met Patti, her youngest son B was seven or eight. I had written a thank you note to Patti, so I wrote a separate letter to B, thinking it would be fun for a little guy to get his own letter. He wrote back, including a picture he had drawn and a photo of himself with a dog on a recent hike. It was unexpected and so cute. At the end of the letter, in his childish handwriting, he post scripted "Write back".
About a year after Patti was gone, B and his older brother came to my farm to build a Lodge here. B's older brother made it a certain way so that we could all go in together, otherwise he and I would not have been able to go in together. I have photos of the two brothers, smiling and happy together on that day. As time went on, I eventually lost track of B. Life moves on and people are busy. He was a young man off in the world. I always believed that someday when he had settled down, I would catch up with him again in some way or another. Unfortunately, B was eventually on the streets, homeless and wild. Almost inevitably he came to the attention of our "justice" system. It was Facebook that served up the missing link. Someone had posted his prison address. I wrote to him immediately and immediately received a reply. At the bottom of the letter in his now masculine handwriting were the words "Write back". To this day, that is the only thing he has ever truly asked of me.
I eventually went to visit him in person. I was shocked to see the man he had become! Though the last time I had seen him, the day he and his brother had been here to build the Lodge, he was much taller than I, he was still a very young-looking teenager. Always in my mind's eye he is that cute little curly haired boy I first met. To see a tall young man with long black braids was a shock! Of course, what did I expect? He was in his early twenties by then. Little boys grow up! I did not cry but I almost did. Patti could sometimes see into the future and I wondered if she had ever seen her son as a grown man? I wondered if she knew he was going to be tall and handsome... and that he would scare the bejeezus out of white people by simply being a big Native American man? Before she died, she had seen that B's life would be ruined in the city. She tried to warn B and his brother, but sometimes life just does not roll out according to plan.
I do not believe B's life is ruined. I cannot see into the future the way Patti sometimes could but I think he has a destiny to fulfill. All of the personal suffering he is going through serves a reason that will eventually become clear to him. I may not live to see that part of his life. I wish I could do more to help him but there is not truly anything I can do. He will soon be 30 years old. The majority of his twenties has been spent in prison or jail. Sometimes to me he seems like a man misplaced in time. He does not seem to possess the most common skills he needs to navigate through the morass of rules, or maybe it is because they are not important to him. He is smart, quick witted, funny, and so damned tough. I give thanks every day that he is a big, strong man. If anyone wants to physically hurt him in prison they are going to pay dearly in the attempt. He is mentally tough. He was In the hole for months. I wrote to him almost every single day while he was locked up in isolation. It was the only thing I could do. I contacted the ACLU, hoping for a way to get him out of there. The ACLU man told me that Kansas typically does not send people to the hole for "no reason" but he said Kansas keeps people in isolation far beyond what he considered necessary, legal or humane. He said there was nothing he could do because B has a long list of prison write ups. B does not follow the rules in prison either. I read other inmates' records of breaking prison rules. Some of them are shocking and violent, even disturbing. Nothing violent or disturbing on B's records, just a LOT of rules breaking.
For whatever reason, B's course in life right now is right through the thick of prison and parole rules. The bright light that was still shining in B, even after years in prison is fading. I just "visited" him for 20 minutes via a video screen. I could see that this latest round of jail time was wearing on him and not in a good way. Yes, he committed a crime when he was young and foolish and homeless. If he had been able to follow the rules and pay the fines, I believe he would have not been sent to prison in the first place. Hard to manage your life if you are homeless, however. None of his crimes have been against people nor have they been violent. Because he was on parole and a convicted felon when he was arrested with a pocketknife, his bail is now set at $25,000, the same as if he had a gun. He has no history of ever harming another human being. He is a Native American man, covered with tattoos. He scares the shit out of white people. Even if I were the richest person on the planet, I do not think I could help him. He is on his own path and only he can read the map. All I can do is keep him in my prayers. I believe he will eventually get things ironed out. He will make the right decisions and take the right steps. I can see that much of the future.