78 years. 78 years was how long my lala Nyal had on this earth, physically. As I write this, his body hasn’t been laid to rest yet with Unci Maka, but it’s a day that I am heavily dreading. A part of me, as a coping mechanism wants to write about his life, because it was truly amazing and the impact he had on me, is something I will carry with me, forever. Talking about him in the past tense is something I can’t get used to. I’m sitting here in his house, on his couch, under his blanket, knowing he is not there in his chair, walking through the door in his Nike Structures I got him, or walking down the hallway into the kitchen saying “hey girl” or “hey jordie.” It feels wrong and empty to be here. My Ina has given up almost two years of her life to live in South Dakota and take care of him
(he had cancer 9 years). I am so happy that she was able
to do that, it was very hard being away from her for so long, hard on my Ate too. Seeing her happy with my lala, and seeing him smile, extended his life even more on this earth. I miss him. I miss the texts. I miss his voice. I miss his hugs. I miss his wisdom and advice when things got hard for me. He was my motivation. I want to write something for him, about him, for my family and friends to see how much he meant to me and how much my family means to me. But the pain is so fresh and unbearable.
It’s now December 1st. It’s been months that I’ve been staring at this post from time to time, telling myself to finish it. The reminders on Facebook memories of photos with us pop up often. Any news I had, I always sent him a text or called. That urge to do so is still there. Thanksgiving was hard. Christmas will be harder as I have been lucky to spend the last few with him. This year of mourning is excruciating, but we have to be ready to say goodbye at the memorial. He is traveling on the red road, and I know he is with family. I know my Unci Darlene is happy to see him. I know he is going to endless mud races or track races. But the selfish part of me, wants him here.
My lala passed away August 11th. Seeing that text message from my Ate at 3:30am, was heartbreaking. Before I swiped my phone to open the message, I knew, I felt emptiness. The last two nights of my lala’s life, I was able to FaceTime with him as he was in the hospital. Seeing him in that condition was just painful, I have always seen him so healthy, and active. He had a hard time speaking. His words were mumbled. But, I was talking to him, and I told him I loved him, and that I will be home in a couple days. And he used all his strength, to say “I love you too.” Reliving this is hard. I’m in tears as I write this, because those words are just as fresh as when I first heard them. My lala passed away late Thursday night, August 11th. As my mom and I said we love you, and I went to bed and she went back home, I think he felt like he didn’t have to hold on anymore, that he was at peace to leave. And that’s all we wanted for him. He was a fighter, and had been fighting this cancer for a long time. He was a fighter, not a quitter. He left on his own terms.
Nyal Brings left a legacy. He left me with hope and motivation. He left our family but our family has gotten closer. He was an amazing man. An accomplished man that overcame so much in his life. He didn’t start school until he was 9. Growing up in White River, SD, he knew family, and he knew his language. He enjoyed his family. But, with the threat of arresting his family, he chose to go to the boarding school. At age 9, he was way behind, and unable to speak his own language. Which was a way set by the Government, to “kill the indian, save the man.” He excelled in school. He found his love of running. He graduated from the University of South Dakota, where he was a Hall of Famer for running
and basketball. He was great friends with Lala Billy Mills, and recently found out from Lala Billy, that my grampy beat him at the Drake Relays. This is something that my Lala never spoke of to my Ina and I, which truly shows how humble he was. My Lala was credited with a 4:10 mile and took many wins.
He was a teacher, a grant writer, he was a coach and he was the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe’s Tribal Health Director for as long as I have been alive and more. He was a culture and language preservationist. He loved people. He had his fancy cars he liked to restore. He was super healthy. He ran all his life until he couldn’t anymore. He had the best smile. He had the best giggle. He dressed extremely well all the time, with his different shades of blue button ups, v-neck sweaters, slim fit pants, and his loafers. He had the best sense of humor. We loved watching Cars and the Fast and Furious movies. My mom and I loved everything we were able to do with him. He loved to make people smile. He truly cared about our people. He truly cared about our youth. He kept track of their accomplishments, cut out newspaper clippings, went to all the local track meets and basketball games. He spoke with youth, he motivated them and he empowered them. He was so generous, and in my opinion too generous, but, that was him. He wanted to help people, at their best, and their worst. He took me on my first run. He took my mom on her
first run. We are three generations of runners. Every time I run, I run for him. They both had dreams to make the Olympic Trials, and that is my dream too, in the marathon. I still run, with workouts and look to 2020 but work has become a focus right now. He introduced me to something that connected us and something that we shared together. For that, I am eternally grateful.
His birthday is December 6th, today, as I finish writing this before I head to work, I can’t begin to express how much I miss him. I am so proud of him. And I hope I become at least half the person he was. I made promises to him as I said goodbye: I will learn to speak Lakota and I will never stop trying. I hope to continue his legacy of helping people. I hope to make people’s day better by empowering them just as he did. My life has been insanely busy since I came back from South Dakota. I don’t talk about my personal struggles that easily, such as losing him, losing my Unci, or any other major thing, but I do wear my emotions on my sleeve. I try to deny I am feeling something, because I don’t want to remind myself of the truth that lies right there. While I am doing everything I can to help amplify the message and voices of Standing Rock, to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline, it’s been something I’ve poured my heart and energy into. It’s because of him. I know he would be so proud of our Protectors. Is it because I am trying not to deal with what I’m actually feeling? Sure. I wouldn’t be surprised. And in those moments where I have nothing planned for a few hours, the pain surfaces, and the tears come rolling in. But then I remember that he worked for the people, and I am doing the same, I am trying to help in any way I can.
Last night, I was exhausted. It’s been a very busy several months, especially the last two months, with panels, discussions, hearings, rallies, marches, blogging, and community organizing multiple events a week. And in the back of my head, I see my Unci Darlene and Lala Nyal. They were two amazing people, who did so much for our people. As I sat on my couch with my igmu MJ (cat), the minutes were counting down to his birthday. I received a reminder in my phone, as well as on Facebook. I burned some sage and said a prayer. As I mentioned before, it’s hard to speak of him in past tense. It’s still just as painful. With all that’s happened, so many things to report on, I just want to tell him. So I did. I know he is in a good place. I know this won’t be easy. So, waited until the clock struck midnight, and I sang him happy birthday. I cried myself to sleep but awoke to a sense of warmth surrounding me, like a hug, at 3:30am.
Today is his birthday. He is 79 years old. As hard as it is, I will celebrate him. We all should. He lived a wonderful life. And I am so lucky, and blessed to have been his granddaughter. He gave me the best Ina. And he brought together our family during a hard time. All I can say, is I miss you. I miss you so much. I love you. I love you so incredibly much. But today, I celebrate you and will see that smile. Doksa, Lala Nyal.