When the call came in that she may not make it, I prayed for three things: 1. If it was time for her to go, that she went peacefully and pain free. 2. That my family would accept that it was her time to go. 3. That I would not lose it in front of anyone.
Thankfully, God answers prayers from the soul. She passed away her own way, waiting for my cousins to arrive on the flight to Anchorage. Smiled a little and took her final breath. I left before that, because I didn't think I could hold on to prayer #3 if I stayed. And my family is not used to see me cry, be upset, or pretty much do anything but work real hard.
Anyway, each night I think about what a legacy she left. And how much I learned from her.
These are the things I came up with:
Put other people first, especially family. Help other people, even if it costs you something (time, money, pride). She always had family living with her; nieces, nephews, grandchildren, and more. She took care of them like they were all her own. Funny (sort of, now) story: When I was a single mother to my son and had just gotten a divorce, I thought my ex-husband was going to come to Kotzebue to steal my son away. I told her and she kicked everyone out of the house, took a shotgun and told me that we were staying with her until he left. I didn't leave the house that week, and she didn't let anyone in. Not even my tatta, who had no idea what was going on, because he was just at the Post Office when she did that! She was a savior to many of her grandchildren.
It doesn't take much to make you happy. My grandparents lived a different lifestyle compared to most people here. They used a dog team to get around, and simple items like a qayaq to check their nets. There was no need for extravagance, or "more." They raised all their kids in a house at Sisualik with only two rooms, a "bedroom" and everything else in the other room. We slept on the floor, covering the entire house, and rolled up the caribou skins (and the lucky ones got some foam to sleep on!) in the morning to start the day. She was always happy, it seems like, and never needed anything more than she already had.
Try not to have regrets. Does that even make sense? I think so. I mean, you learn so much from mistakes, from others and from life in general, that you can't possibly think that you're the "same person you always were." Right? I know I'm not the same person I was when I was 18, or even last year for that matter. I don't have regrets, really. I think she just showed us that it's OK to fail, it's OK to win... as long as you learn something and are graceful doing it.
Hold on to your culture. My aana taught us to live off the land. To sew, and pick berries, and bake bread. She sang to us in Inupiaq, she scolded us in Inupiaq. She never told us to embrace our culture, she just did. She didn't preach to us about the importance of our culture, she just lived that lifestyle and we learned from her and my tatta. The Inupiaq here have a set of "Values" that they spout off all the time. "Respect for Elders!" "Knowledge of family tree!" "Hunter Sucess!" "Responsibility to Tribe!" Very few people simply live them. She was one of them who lived those values every day of her life. Not in the open, not on facebook, not told to anyone else. Simply lived them with no credit needed. She taught her children and grandchildren the importance of being an Inupiaq person just by the everyday things she did.
*I made these mukluks for her after she passed away. She was buried in them. I shed many a tear sewing these the week of the funeral. But I always knew that she was watching over me, making sure my stitches were nice! :)
Work hard. This is probably the best lesson I learned, besides sewing from her. She took care of her family, her community, her sisters, her nieces and everyone who came into her door. There is not one person who grew up in Sisualik who did not know who she was. She was not vocal, or verbal about much (except on the CB when we wouldn't go home on time!) but she took care of everything without complaint, or even a grumpy look on her face! Sometimes I don't even want to make dinner for the four of us after working all day. And by work, I mean sitting in my office, staring into my computer typing a whole bunch of stuff, answering emails, sending information out. Not working, as in, picking berries, making seal pokes, cutting caribou, gathering greens, AND making dinner from scratch in a place with no electricity or running water for 15 people every night. So work hard picking berries. Work hard making mukluks. Work hard making dinner. Work hard if all you're doing is answering phones.
If boys can do it, girls can do it, too. My aana was never really a conformist. Yes, she sewed mukluks and parkys and hats and mittens for all her kids and grandkids. Yes, she baked bread and made doughnuts every Sunday. Yes, she picked thousands of gallons of berries. But she also had a dog team, checked nets, hunted caribou, drove a boat, raced in dog races, chopped wood, and more. I was allowed to go hunting with my uncles and tatta, and I was allowed to sew mukluks with my aana. I would rather chop wood any day, than do the dishes. My male cousins had to do dishes too, I remember one day my cousin said, "I don't need to do dishes, let Bessie, she's a GIRL!" My aana said to him, "Being a girl or boy doesn't matter. Some day you'll have a wife and she won't always do dishes for you." And that was the end of that. There was not real "scolding" just a simple lesson that boys need to do dishes too. (haha)
Keep on learning, always. If you're taking classes, great. If not, you always learn something new. My aana grew up speaking Inupiaq and she worked hard to learn English correctly. She worked hard listening to the people telling her to "embrace westernization" but she still held on to her culture and past. She enjoyed new technology, and western movies. She always made sure our schoolwork was done before we got to "play out" or have doughnuts! Education, both traditional and western, was important to her. Always keep learning.
I'm sure we learned so much more from her than these, but these are the lessons that are most important to me. I learned a love for sewing from her. A love for helping people. I learned to make doughnuts and sourdough hotcakes. I learned that there is no place I'd rather be than Sisualik, AK in the fall time. No internet, no phones. No electricity or running water either. Hard work, quiet, peacefullness that we all want.
Thank you aana for teaching us. Thank you for being our grandmother. Thank you for taking care of us. Thank you for scolding us when we needed. Thank you for showing us unconditional love.