One fateful day at the end of June in 1998 when I was spending some time at home; my mother came to me with the bad news: my parent’s best friend, Tommy, had been diagnosed with brain cancer. He had been sick for some time and we all had anxiously been awaiting a prognosis. But none of us were ready for the bumpy roads that lay ahead: testing, surgery, chemotherapy, nausea, headaches, and fatigue. Even loud music would induce vomiting. He just felt all around lousy. After several surgeries and many rounds of chemotherapy, Tommy had lost the will to go on.
He stayed at home in bed, he didn’t eat, he had lost the “go get’ em” attitude he once had. We all tried to give him the love and support he needed, but it didn’t look good. The doctor gave him until Christmas time. Then, one day there was a glimmer of hope in the darkness. Tommy’s cousin Tom Tripodi called one morning and told Tommy and his wife Barbara about an Indian healing ceremony. Skeptical at first, we began to learn more about the ancient art of healing ceremonies. We all warmed up to the idea, and Barbara took out several books on the subject. The decision had been toiled over, and finally made.
Tommy was going to go through with it. Various plans must be made, and so the chaos began. Relatives and friends were called upon, both to attend the ceremony, and acquire the necessary supplies and provisions. After many over the phone consultations with the two Indians, Keith and Sean, and their friend/helper Tina, (who all lived in Canada), we were left with a long list of all the things that would be required for the event. Cans of tobacco; twenty foot high, three inch wide birch trees; river rocks; certain colors of fabric, pure cotton only; and the most important of all: family and friends, loved ones.
For they would be the ones who would truly heal. Each item had a specific meaning and purpose, and each order must be followed exactly. The day came closer and we were all very nervous. The ceremony was to take place at Baiting Hollow Boy Scout Camp. Everything was coming together and the next weekend the healing would take place. We were all anxiously awaiting the day. It finally arrived, and as my mom and I drove down the small, dirt, boy scout camp road, you could almost slice through the tension in the car. I walked up the path, my heart echoing the faint sound of a beating drum.
As we came upon a clearing I began to feel nervous and a bit unsure. No one knew what to expect. Familiar faces came into view. Some were faces I hadn’t seen in years. We felt the urge to display our excitement, but we were told there was a sweat lodge nearby, and to resist the temptation. I wandered amongst the blur of faces saying hello to my large “extended family,” of life-long friends. I eventually found the man I was looking for. Our reason for gathering in the sweltering heat. The common bond we all shared. Looking upon his withered body almost broke my heart.
He looked frail, nothing but brittle bones beneath his skin. His head is nearly bald with a few patches of the deep, dark hair I remembered that the chemotherapy left behind. His thin tank top exposed the scars the surgeries had left on his body. More difficult for me was noticing the emotional scars apparent in his sunken in eyes, that were once jolly and humorous. I can’t even describe the specific events and emotions I felt that day. The whole experience was so surreal and out of this world it was like being in a haze.
Even three years later I still get goose bumps sitting here typing this. However I was glad to finally have the opportunity to share such a wondrous event with people. The whole experience was emotionally, spiritually, and physically cleansing. Many people who took part in the ceremonies, or in the sweat lodges were rid of their own physical ailments such as back pains or migraines, and the healing seems to be permanent. With Tommy’s more serious case, the healing was temporary. Unfortunately, on May 5, 2001, Tommy passed away.
It was obviously devastating and still hasn’t totally sunken in. The one thing I gained from the experience was an intense appreciation for alternative medicine. It was terribly hard to lose him but at least the ceremony made the pain subside for awhile. If one doesn’t believe in the power of spirits and “magic” one still must believe in the power of love and family. It is not every lifetime that a person gets a chance to take part in something so miraculous, and I hope my sharing it will bring others a little bit closer to understanding.