There is a sorrowful place in my heart this week. Last Saturday, my niece Shiyloh Hill fell from her bedroom window while playing with a friend. She was ten years old and the fall was one from which she would never recover.
Shiyloh loved to laugh. One time she put a plastic eyeball in my mother’s morning coffee. Another time she put on fake rotten teeth and begged me for candy.
Shiyloh was artistic. She was a member of the Debra Brown Circus Arts School and earned a scholarship to study with the former Cirque du Soliel choreographer.
Shiyloh was loving. Whenever anyone was upset or hurting she would be the first one to offer a hug and words of comfort. I can still hear her high pitched voice asking me, “Are you okay Aunty?” She was an organ donor at her own request a few weeks before her passing. Her life has now spared four children here in Canada.
She was covered in mosquito bites and had tangled hair because of that passionate childhood freedom bubbling up within her. She wasn’t only playing…she was conquering kingdoms, rescuing mermaids from pirates, or solving mysteries with her cousins to save the world!
This week, the entire community offered support. The women’s shelter cooked food and Wilson Water donated a well full of water. Friends from far and wide gathered to clean, paint and prepare the property for her burial. Helpers were sent from the Longhouse and the churches to carry the family through this crisis. A couple from northern Ontario came to plant a medicine garden around her gravesite and friends from the Annishnabe nation sent up prayers and dances at gatherings across the territory. Our aunties and uncles stopped and came from wherever they were to just to scrub floors and wipe away the tears. This family has been held up by love.
When a child dies there is a unique process that takes place. You grieve the past, and you mourn for the future simultaneously. How do we walk forward without her? Was this all a part of the plan? Is this real? Every now and then I hit a brick wall of reality when I realize that I am making plans for the future without her in them.
As I was wandering the Six Nations Fall Fair this weekend, lamenting in one of these moments a child from the community came up to me of her own accord and hugged me from behind. “I’m sorry for your loss,” she said.
I can’t tell you how this mattered. To honor and acknowledge one another’s pain is part of the Onkwehon:we protocol of life, and this child knew that. There is a speech used in the Confederacy when a chief dies and another is raised in his place. During this condolence ceremony the speaker addresses the nation saying they will “wipe away their tears” with the softest doeskin. This is the tenderness and love at the heart of this nation. This is the love among us, Ganohkwa’sra – and this was deep in the heart of Shiyloh.
This week, we hold a ten-day feast for Shiyloh just as our grandfathers and grandmothers held feasts for their departed. Ten days for her spirit to become accustomed and ready for her journey back to Skyworld, and ten days for us to prepare for letting her go. This rite of passage is a sacred time for the family and because of the love among us…instead of feeling robbed of her presence the entire family is grateful that her life culminated in this epic outpouring of love and support. We are honored by this community and believe that Shiyloh’s memory will be held sacred as she joins her place in the next world.
Shiyloh Isobelle Hill, in your eleven years here you understood something so simple that evades so many. And in your name I will keep that love in my heart for the rest of my days. Travel on little Shiy, and rest in peace.