When I was young I learned that snow berry are sacred plants. I learned that their berries hold the spirits of our ancestors. I learned that to sit among snow berry is to be home, among family.
This teaching, given to me much from my dad and my sister, has always proved deeply comforting to me.
When I was in my 20s, struggling with a difficult marriage, I found comfort in being near my Nana. My mom’s mom, Nana was so very, very different than the other adults in my world. And she birthed my mom, yet so drastically unlike my mom, Nana simply loved, not only me, but the conflict-drama-and-exhaustion that I swirled into every space those years I navigated my way to understanding how to leave an abusive relationship. Nana was calm in my sails. Like a strong prairie wind. You know the kind, when the inside of your eyelids sting and your cheeks are burned chapped-red. Nana was good for me.
Many adults were too: dad who I have written about and, of course is the kindest and best of men, I believed was pained hearing my pain. And it took me decades to understand the reaction I observed in dad was love, a reaction that was not mine to keep from him.
Mom loved me too. As much as dad. But oh, even today, ours lives as a tricky connection. I was always so astounded that my Nana, all 5’2” and who weighed a buck nine soaking wet, was more …… more on a frequency to the sparks of my journey than mom, for whom my freckles, curvy silhouette, and chocolate eyes forever outwardly link me.
When I was a child, feeling lost in trying to understanding my instinct to care, to nurture, to love, Nana and I would sit by side by side on her tweed cigarette smelling hide-abed sofa. Grandpa would be watching a game. The TV always adding the backdrop of sports statistics that wove just as think as the haze that swirled and swirled and swirled around him and his oxygen tank. I would sit beside her. She would hold my hand in hers, our hands resting on her thin knees, worn blue polyester slacks.
Her hands were soft, always with a fresh waxing of lotion. We would sit. She would ask question. Sometimes she rubbed a bit of extra lotion on the backs of my hands. We would sit, hands together.
Nana died the year I left my marriage. In the months and years that followed, as I learned that much of our connection was connected through common understands, experiences of addiction, fear, love and teaching. Oh, I missed my Nana.
A delicate day a while back, I was working with a group of students. For the most part, the period was rather calm. I was sitting between two high school students, Cody & Josh, moving back and forth between each of them, supporting them with work from other courses.
The assignments the students were working on weren’t engaging. We were pushing through, getting ‘er done. “I’m not coming to school tomorrow, Ms. Saas.” Cody met my eyes. He had said the same line at the beginning of class. I had heard it. Now he met my eyes. Almost pushing away from the table where he was working.
Josh looked up towards him too, and stopped working.
I kept the moment, “Oh. Yeah. Why aren’t you coming to school”
“It’s my mom’s birthday.”
“How old would she have been?”
Cody’s mom died two years before. Around our gratitude table we have had open discussions about lung cancer, loss, grief and our understanding of deep sadness and pain.
That moment with Cody sitting and paused, and Josh sitting and listen, along with the other students in our class, that moment would never open again.
“What do you have planned to celebrate her day?”
“Stay in-bed, I guess.”
“You know, Cody. I have never lost a parent, but I know what I did after my Nana died.”
… Eyes wide
“Have I ever told you about the legend of snow berry… “
I shared about the days, months years after leaving my marriage and aching for that grounding place of Nana’s hands, someone who knew, just knew. How I’d walk the prairie thickets and hillsides and sit long hours among snow berry.
I shared how I would share how scared I was, how I missed her, stories of Jessy Lee, and ask questions, ask so many questions. And just sit.
And that I still do. Sit among snow berry.
“I let off fireworks, $500 worth on my Dad’s birthday,” Josh shared.
What struck me deeply as I later reflected on the day, that period, these moments, was how important it was to Cody that he trusted us enough share his heart. A young person not skipping school; a young person attending to life.
I closed my eyes that night aching to know if Cody might walk out among the berries and find a bit of solace.
The next day, shortly after the start of period one, Cody popped by, standing in the doorway, then walking right into class, having taken the long route to the washroom, he said.
“I decided I wanted to be here.”
Home. Wherever, however we foster it, especially for youth, is the most sacred of places.