A Death in the Family Anoints a New Matriarch: Me
Commentary by Becky Tallent | FāVS News
It hit me the other day: With my mother’s death, I am now the senior woman in my family.
In Native cultures, that is a massive deal. Aunties are all-powerful, they are the wise women, the matriarchs who carry traditions forward. For the woman, it is actually a very strange combination of respect and familiarity with family members.
How did this happen? I’m not ready to be a wise woman, there is still too much to learn.
In all honesty, I subconsciously felt the shift during Mom’s memorial service: All my relatives were suddenly being deferential. The minister paid attention to me over my brothers, giving me first option of choices in the order of service. One of my nephews suddenly started calling me “ma’am.”
But the status change didn’t hit me until a couple of days later.
Not that I mind my age, but in the words of Spiderman: “With great power comes great responsibility.”
Also, the sudden deference and automatic respect is a bit unnerving. I’ve always just been one of the “knuckleheaded kids”; not so much now.
Taking a breath. The upside is I now get to be the family storyteller. I get to remind us of who we are, where we originated plus tribal stories of creation and history. That part is cool.
Another nice part is I get held in respect by the family members who follow tradition, who reverence our history and elders. I also get to help family members who were not raised traditionally to discover our history, our past and why we do the things we do. Bringing a family member back into the fold is an exciting experience.
Settling disputes and helping people make life decisions, er — not so much. But it is part of the package.
Like all families, we have our disagreements. We have some who were raised or rediscovered our culture while others have ignored or denied it. We have some people who want material things and others who are much more concerned with the spiritual. It is a difficult tightrope to walk between the different sides. It is not something I look forward to in the years ahead.
Perhaps the best part of this new status is I know the term “auntie” is also (significantly) a term of endearment. There can be a true fondness associated with the person. I have many aunties in my past whom I have loved dearly as they taught me the things I must now teach younger generations.
It makes me realize even my fearsome Auntie, who we all respected, but who terrified us, must have felt when she became the matriarch. For better or worse, I felt myself channeling that particular Auntie when explaining something to a niece the other day.
A new discovery: you may or may not become your parents, but in Native cultures you can become your auntie.
What will be some of the lessons? Primarily one of respect. Now I realize why it was stressed so much to me that we respect other people, even those with whom we disagree. Civility and respect go a long way to solving many problems and bringing peace.
Also, patience, a lesson from my great-grandmother. Sometimes we simply need to wait, not rush for an answer. As a younger woman, I wanted answers “now!,” not realizing the fullness of time often brings much more clarity and understanding.
Neither of these will be popular with the younger generation, at least at first. But hopefully they will understand that, like them, I am new at this status and need time (like they do) to adjust.
In the meantime, wrapping my head around this new status is very strange. I just hope I can eventually adjust to being called “ma’am.”