Family, Life
Comments 8

Stone by Stone: Burying an activist, community builder, wife and mother.

We buried mom on Thursday

Thor’s Day, God of Thunder

Ruled by Jupiter and Sagittarius

Fitting for the Warrior she was

Dragon Lady

Defender of Earth

Her body, dressed in the splendid purple silk Autumn bought her years ago and

Unpolluted by fluids meant to preserve her flesh

Laid to rest in a simple pine casket

Handcrafted by a Colville man

Lined with a Pendleton blanket

A cedar filled pillow for her beautiful brain to rest on

Tucked into her time capsule were special stones

Her feather and staff and

The dragon box she cherished, filled with farewell notes of love and gratitude


Her community gathered

Friends, allies and

Hearts filled with gratitude for her tireless optimism in the fight for Justice

They spoke of her journalism

Her quest for Truth

Her penchant for framing conversations in a way that can be heard by those in power

Her commitment to Community, also

Barter Fair committees, the Tonasket Co-op, the Tonasket Community Cultural Center, Annual International Mother’s Day March for Peace

The list goes on: co-founder, board member, advocate, volunteer, ally

They spoke of her commitment to our Earth and

How she inspired them to take up action, that

Each citizen of the planet can make an impact, that

Everyone shares responsibility to keep our home for the next generation

She was honored by the Similkameen People of Canada for her dedication in

Helping restore ceremonial rights on the River

For helping them understand how to fight the Okanogan PUD in the US in

Their corrupt bid to build a new damn and

Destroy the sacred salmon run

This honor is great, as

Mom deeply respected the Indigenous Peoples, and yet

The white environmental community has historically not

Aligned with the needs or ways of

Indigenous Peoples

She was honored in song by the Hyde Family and

Upon Mom’s request, everyone sang Amazing Grace

I was overwhelmed by, and also grounded in,


The women, my Aunties

Those who had grown the food,

Made the birthdays and weddings and so many parties, and

Rituals of Life happen, they

Came together and made the wake, funeral, and meal afterward happen

The men, my Uncles, they

Carried the casket, set the site, made the prayers and

Many quoted her in saying

“It takes a village” and

All honored Mom

Builder of Community


James did the rope science and tied the knots and

That way we didn’t need a machine so

We hoisted her into her Beloved Earth

By hand

Clutching the ropes tightly

Bracing our legs, we

Gently touched her down into that 10 foot hole

We shoveled the dirt

The huge mountain of dirt

So much dirt on top of Mom

Forcing myself to shovel and

Knowing it was only her husk, still

Fighting every moment to not yell

“Stop! She’s gonna suffocate in there!”

I continued to shovel with my brothers and my dad and sister and

As we slowly made our way home

I kept the panic at bay

No, we hadn’t forgotten Mom under all that dirt

That’s now her Forever Home


Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust


Friday morning dawned bleakly, what

Would I do with myself now that 7am wasn’t the time to get mom up and dressed?

I binge watched Netflix

“She’s Gotta Have it”

While drinking pots and pots of tea

At 4:30 am


I worried most about Rick

Lover, Partner, Husband, Coparent, and Ally of 35 years

Inseparable from almost the first day they met, together he and Mom

Raised children, founded and published a magazine for 20-plus years, made bread, stopped a mine and saved a mountain and a watershed, grew food, sued the Army Corp of Engineers and won, canned pickles, taught on the Colville Reservation, cared for and nursed many loved ones through death, volunteered in the community and

Loved each other passionately

Now, still young and healthy at 79

He mourns the love of his life

A love few are blessed enough to know

He is the strongest kind of man there is

The embodiment of feminism and

True Equality for All

A male who supports the females in his life

Not just with words, but actions and

Supported Mom in all ways, including

Nursing her during her six year battle against cancer and

Finally death

Always protecting her right to make her own choices


Mom’s love of and study of geology went far beyond

Simply learning how to read an Environmental Impact Statement

Everywhere we traveled by car Mom would explain and

Recite the geological formations and processes of the local landscape

She was enamored with stones and

Collected a few thousand pounds of rocks

During her 34 years in Chesaw

Delighting in the geology everywhere she went, she

Surrounded herself with stones and

People gifted her with stones and

Her favorite stone, a granite erratic boulder

Uncovered during a backyard excavation project

She had placed upon the hill behind her house

Her Sitting Stone

She chose it for her Headstone


Friday, after rising

All in a daze

We made plans to clean and decorate Mom’s grave

We collected some of her stones and

Headed back to the cemetery

In tears we raked and built a mound of the remaining dirt

Brainstorming how to make her gravesite

Insisting that it had to last a couple of hundred years I

Wanted Mom’s descendants to know who she was

When they came looking for their ancestor

Chris took the biggest of stones and began digging them in

Building a rock fortress around her edges


We worked at it for four days

Collecting rocks from the house and yard

Loading the truck

We brought at least a thousand pounds of those rocks to the cemetery

Amongst the hazy fog of grief and shock we

Discussed and ideated

Hugged and cried

Drank booze and smoked ganja

All the while steadily, but without a clear plan, moving forward

I like plans

I need plans

Plans make me feel better

We couldn’t make real plans without the erratic in place

Late on the third day

We had just placed the stones the erratic would rest on when

We spied Leroy rolling down the road with

The erratic in the bucket of his tractor

Of all of the days he could have delivered it

Like a miracle it showed up just then


Sometimes plans are less than Flow


On the fourth day

Still without a plan

We collected and delivered the

Mother Lode of stones

James and I bickered

I cried

Still no plan

I just wanted to collaborate on a plan that

Incorporated everyone’s ideas, meanwhile

Rick began to place stones with his usual quiet gentleness

Randomly placing with Intention

He led us as

One by one the rest of us followed him

We picked up Mom’s beloved rocks

Stone by stone we

Placed the rocks mom had collected

Circling inward with each stone we

Built a Cairn

An ancient Irish burial mound

She was very happy with our work


Covered in the rocks she loved

The rocks and Mom

Nestled between the mountains she loved and fought to protect

Now in their Forever Home


The building of Mom’s cairn was centering and

The process we needed as a family to bring to a close

Our collective journey in Mom’s disease and

In the nine weeks we spent together helping her die

A beautiful, dignified death

Now the five of us are bonded in

Our shared experience

Our collective grieving

Our love of Mom

Uniting us from her side of the veil

Where we shall all pass one day, but

For now we live and carry on her work

All of us

In our own ways



  1. Shirl says

    What a beautiful memorial to your mother. She was a rock in our community. ❤️💜


  2. lynn besser says

    thank you lovely Iris/Irene
    You are truly your Mother’s Daughter.

    Much love to you.

    “Auntie” Lynn


  3. Joseph Enzensperger says

    Beautifully written. Made me cry all over again. Thank you for the closure your sharing has brought to me as well. I will be visiting the Chesaw Cemetary soon to visit with Jere again on another plane. Joseph


    • slickiris says

      Thank you Joseph. When you visit Mom, please let me know! I see this was from a month ago, perhaps you’ve already visited.


  4. Tracy Wilson says

    As a mom myself, I could only dream of being worthy of such beautiful words from my children … something to live and strive for. So sorry for the physical loss of your mom but thanks for sharing such a beautiful dedication to a clearly amazing woman.


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