Monday, August 8, 2016

HOPE


A Denesuline Warrior!  

Yesterday, August 7, 2016, I received bad news.  First I heard my uncle passed at 92 years old. While I was still processing this news, I got the dreaded phone call telling me the tragic news of my older brother’s passing. He was only 58 years old. Born in Uranium City, Saskatchewan and was raised in Fort Chipewyan and Fort McMurray Alberta. He died from complications due to his injury last year and excessive drinking. The medical examiner said, that he died from complications from COPD. Since my brother was not a smoker, he indicated that it may have been duress from the forest fire in May.  

This hit me harder because Rossi's health was improving. We were very close and he had so much life to be lived yet.

I’ve had a day to process what has happened. I think I am in the anger stage of the grief spectrum.  He was too young to die, damn it! (I could hear Rossi saying here, if you want me to swear for you sis, I will – I never swear!)

If I were to be honest, I would say he died of heartbreak.  The last year of his life I saw him give up. He gave up on waiting for the type of love he deeply craved, an unconditional love, from some of his children and grandchildren, brothers and sisters.  He gave up on the travel that he yearned to do and the ‘60s car he would buy to take him on his travels.  He abandoned his plans of going travelling to Europe on a freighter and going to NASCAR races.  But when I noticed that he gave up on music, which has always lit up his life no matter what was happening, I knew he had also given up on life.

I could see it in his eyes when I last saw him just a couple of weeks ago.  The abject sadness overshadowed his smiles and laughter.  The withdrawing.  The spark he had was gone.  He was tired.  He could not fight any longer. And he simply gave up trying.

In January 2015 I wrote a blog about him after he was beaten into unconsciousness after he intervened to help a woman who was being assaulted by her boyfriend.  This act of selflessness caused him to lose some of his mobility and left him with permanent brain damage, which made him dependent on others for the first time.  I think that was the day he died, but it took his spirit longer to let go.  That is how much he craved love and he was willing to keep alive until he got it, but sadly it eluded him. 

Rossi second on the left, next to his brother Roger
Rossi didn’t have an easy life.  He was a product of the Indian Residential School system. He entered it when he was just 5 years old. He was haunted by the memories of what he experienced over the twelve years of his life he gave there.  For years he kept his feelings and memories hidden masked by his jokes and laughter.  Until one day he decided to go to therapy; and that is when he started drinking. Some therapists are not equipped to handle the type of trauma Rossi and other residential school survivors endured.

He was an intelligent man and knew so much about politics, genealogy, human behaviour, and music.  He loved flying so he became a pilot; it gave him a freedom he couldn’t get on the ground. And when he couldn’t do that, he loved to drive. He also had an innate ability to navigate, I think, he had a built in GPS in his DNA.  He was my compass, my navigator, when we were together I knew I would never be lost. He was also my protector. When I need him he was always there and I hope I was also there for him.

He is gone.  A deep integral part of me is also gone.  Who I was to him and who I was around him. We never had an argument, never used harsh words with one another, and never judged one another. That is not to say he didn’t have a quick temper or was moody, I just knew when to stop pushing him and leave him be.  Our familial bond is gone and I am left alone without an anchor and no navigator.  Floating and lost.
        
Ultimately, what took his life - which people often skirt and make excuses around - is ALCOHOL.  ALCOHOL killed my brother, sucked his spirit and left him empty. This is where my anger is hovering.

ALCOHOL is the reason he intervened in breaking up that fight over a year ago. The man who attacked him was drunk or on drugs. 

ALCOHOL took away his reason for living and broke a beautiful human being.
In Canada, many Indigenous people are dying an untimely death due to ALCOHOL.  We have to change the conversation we as a nation are having about why this is happening. We have to change our story and our belief. In particular, we have to change our belief that once people are adults we can’t influence them to stop drinking.    I don’t have the answer on how but I have a commitment to change that belief.
  
Rossi’s death will not be in vain.
 
I am challenging, you the reader, to do something about this too because everyone is impacted by alcohol abuse in some form or another.

There already exist, and has for over 40 years an institution in Alberta that has transformed many lives. Maybe we’ve forgotten about it. But it is there. Please have another look at Supporting Nechi Institution: Centre for Indigenous learning, the only Indigenous institute that uses culture and experiential learning as a gateway to reach the spirit of its indigenous and non-indigenous students.

Rossi was a game changer.  He over came and fought his ghosts, maybe not successfully, but they didn’t own him.  He never became bitter nor twisted. He was not an angry person; he was always a kind and gentleman and held his head high with integrity. 


May 2016, Fort McMurray, Alberta (Fire) 
Our world has loss a great human being when Rossi Samuel Deranger died, August 7th, 2016. 

There are many other Rossis out there; maybe there is one in your family.  There is hope to help those people, and that hope is you.


My friend and writer, wrote this wonderful piece on my brother Rossi for the Fort McMurrayToday paper.  Thank you Therese.  :)  

4 comments:

Alan Pratt said...

Rossi was a special friend to me for many reasons, not just a brother-in-law. I loved his sense of humour, his love of so much of the same music I love, his integrity, his sense of responsibility and his friendship. I always took care to make sure he had music because as long as Rossi had music he had something to live for, whatever else was happening to him. He spent a lot of time with me and my family, driving our son around to school and appointments, and he played our son his silly '60s novelty songs over and over.

It breaks my heart that he didn't get a chance to do all the things his curiosity made him want to do, but he did get to New York, and I was lucky to spend that time with him. I never saw anybody so thrilled to be in a new place!

When he was near death in the hospital he said our late poodle Bodhi came to visit him. Now they can hang out together. Rest in peace, Rossi.

Unknown said...

I'm so sorry for your loss, and what a beautiful and eye opening story, thank you for sharing, he will be missed by so many.

God Bless <3

DUTA said...

Dear Angelina,

I'm wordless. Your post is so powerful and well-written, written from the blood of your grieving heart! It is a great tribute to Rossi the human being .
I know what you feel as I've also lost a brother about the same age as Rossi's.
May your brother's soul rest in peace! May God console you and strenghten you at this time of grief!
Sorry about the loss of your uncle too. May he rest in peace!

Angelina Pratt said...

Thank you Alan for your comment. He indeed was an amazing brother and we will miss him dearly.

Thank you Unknown, for your comment. Rossi will absolutely be missed by many.

Thank you Duta, I do remember you mentioning you also loss a brother. It is a very difficult time for our family and your words are comforting.

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