icon caret-left icon caret-right instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads question-circle facebook circle twitter circle linkedin circle instagram circle goodreads circle pinterest circle

FISSURE: A Life Between Cultures




In April of 2008, my mother called early in the morning before I could leave for work. "Your daddy's gone to Glory," she said. She had never before called him your daddy. Not to me. It felt odd. Later I remembered that she and her sisters never stopped calling my grandfather Daddy. But I had stopped calling my father Daddy years earlier. People do and say things they otherwise wouldn't when someone has just died. It was like my mother to say he'd "gone to Glory," in a rare moment of allowing herself to be dramatic.

I called in to work after talking with my mother and drove to Gallup, 136 miles from where I lived. I needed to see my father before the morticians got their hands on him. I went straight to the mortuary, and they told me they wouldn't let me see him, that I wouldn't want to, until they fixed him up. I went outside, sat on a bench in the sun and cried. Not from grief, probably not even so much because I needed that time with him, but from a feeling of powerlessness. The funeral director saw me and had a change of heart. She took me to a small room where my father lay on a gurney, zipped up to his hands and chest in a plastic, navy blue body bag. His mouth gaped, I suppose in his last gasp for air, but his eyes were closed.


I touched my father's bony hands. They were cold. I sat by his side and told him things I hadn't been able to tell him when his mind had left him or before that when he was so angry with me for not following his path. I told him, "Thank you for taking care of me. Thank you for teaching me that there is a life of the spirit. Thank you for teaching me to read the Diné language when I was starting to read English. Thank you for telling me about Diné life as you believed it was. I'm sorry we couldn't talk better with each other at the end. I love you, Dad." I cried a little but not a lot, and then I left and went to see my mother.

She was baffled when I told her I'd been to see my dad and how difficult it had been just to be allowed to see him. "Why did you think you needed to see him that way anyway? And why did you need to go by yourself?" I thought if I had to explain it, she probably wouldn't understand, so I let her questions lie between us.

Three days later, we all went to the funeral home and had family time with my dad in the pine coffin my brothers had built. The mortician had sewn Dad's lips shut. He couldn't yell at me anymore to tell me that on Judgment Day I would pray for the rocks and the mountains to fall on me. He didn't look like himself, either, with his lips that way.

That evening, in my mother's living room we gathered—children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews—and told stories about my dad. We talked about how he always pulled a comb out of his back pocket to slick back his hair when he was walking from the car to a store or church; how he would spin a car full of us kids on ice; how he loved to take a handful of sage leaves, rub them and hold them out to us and say, "Smell!" We laughed and ate sweets and talked about the sweetness of the man and the traits we had inherited from him.

Many Diné came to my father's funeral. John Tsosie, who comforted me at Trudy's funeral, drove five hours each way to be present. Christian converts came to Gallup from as far away as Teec Nos Pos and Albuquerque. In the graveyard a hole had been dug in what is known as Missionary Row. Old missionaries, dating back to a death date of 1936, lie next to each other. My brothers and I lowered the coffin on ropes. One of my brothers pointed out that I seemed to be in a rush because my end was dropping too fast. Maybe I just wasn't as strong as them. And maybe I was in a rush.

Sharla, the daughter of one of the converts from Teec Nos Pos was someone I knew pretty well, a PhD psychologist. Several shovels stood in the pile of earth beside the grave, and we were told that anyone could scoop in some dirt. Sharla grabbed a spade before anyone else and energetically tossed in several shovelfuls. She is generally a vigorous woman, but one of my brothers and I both noticed that she seemed eager. We wondered if she were getting some kind of closure. We didn't think she'd known Dad that well. Maybe it was closure with all the Bilagáana missionaries she'd known.

It is a cliché that your life changes in unforeseen ways when a parent dies because a generation no longer stands between you and death as a sort of buffer. I didn't believe my dad's death would affect me that way, but for a long time after that, hardly a day went by that I didn't think about my own mortality. For one thing, I am closer now to my death than to my birth. I think to myself, "I'm going to die someday. How can that be? How will it happen? When? Fast or slow? What will the days before it be like?"

Fear of the dead, which later became fear of dying, rarely accompanies my thoughts. It does visit now and then, though only briefly. Most of the time I am struck with a sense of wonder, of incomprehension. I cannot imagine a world where I am not. This is not because I think I am indispensable but because this is the only place I have known myself to be. Even the certainty of death is incomprehensible. It will happen.


Death has changed, or I have changed in relationship to it. At times I wonder how my thoughts about death may morph yet again, whether I might be granted some understanding of it before it happens to this body I call me. Mostly I am simply in awe of the mystery of it, which I suppose is what that fear disguised all along.


©Anna Redsand, 2024. All Rights Reserved.


This is the final installment of "Some Things Were True."

Installment 1 of Chapter IV of Fissure, "In the Girls Room" will post on Friday, 2/23/24

Post a comment