In the past 48 hours, at least nine children (two sibling groups) here on the Jicarilla Apache Nation have lost a parent. We know and love many of these children, and listening to them sob at their devastating loss is heartbreaking.
The saddest thing is that this isn't anything unusual, really. The number of children here who have lost a parent is staggering. Most of these deaths involve alcohol. That's a grim reality here. Suicide is another main cause of death among young adults. We know a number of children who have been with their parent when s/he died or have found their parent dead.
The pain is cumulative. I know I've said this before, but it's so deeply true. There is a family we know who has lost 4 close relatives in less than 2 years, not all to substance abuse. We know children who have lost both parents to alcohol abuse. We know grandparents who are raising grandchildren from 2 or 3 of their incapacitated or deceased adult children. A young-thirties mom recently told me that 12 of her graduating class from high school had passed away. 12 out of 52! More than 20% of those graduates have already passed away, many with young children.
There comes a point when these children and youth give up hope of anything better. They become resigned to grief and loss. Their prayers reflect their fears: "Please, God, watch over my mom because she's gone away, and I know she's drinking." "Heavenly Father, keep my dad from doing something bad and going to jail again."
We try to teach them that God will always be with them. That they are never alone. That Jesus loves them, and so do we. I've hugged kids who were sobbing about the death of their beloved uncle. I've comforted kids because their intoxicated father had kept them up all night. I've watched kids carry around a big backpack of stuff because someone at home might sell it to get money for alcohol.
These are the kids in AWANA and Sunday School and who play at the parsonage with our daughter. These are the kids to whom we try to show the hope of Jesus Christ and the love of God. These are the kids who receive the Bibles that are donated to AWANA. These are the kids you support when you pray, donate, or volunteer to serve.
If you would like to understand more of what happens on the reservation, read Sherman Alexie's Reservation Blues. It fits with our experiences in many ways.
If you would like to help us serve these children and youth, contact me on email at firstname.lastname@example.org