Grieving my mother

My mother taught me to weave in the traditional way. I didn’t fully realize her strategy until she passed away in December 2016, at only 60 years old. She left me holding the weft strands.

For as long as I can remember, my mother, Clarissa Rizal, invited me to do whatever she was doing. I started hand-sewing cotton pouches at four years old. I was sewing buttons shortly after. She showed me how to glue down and sew buttons on the ceremonial regalia she was making, I put thousands of cones on the ends of her weaving warp fringes. Then I was splitting cedar bark, thigh-spinning warp, washing and grooming the balls (trimming the bark ends out of the warp) helping her hand-dye yarns, wind balls. All the steps before weaving.

Around the time I started spinning warp, she helped me warp up my first project. A pair of Ravenstail leggings. Mostly I resisted. I wanted to go hang with my friends. I remember her insisting, “Oh no, you weave four rows before you go gallivanting around.” I wove one dance-legging too tight and it tapered in near the ankle, and the other came out perfectly straight. I never mounted them on anything, and I think she turned the straight one into the back side of a tunic top. I found the tapered one in the ‘unfinished weavings’ tote after her passing.  She saved my first ever weaving.

In 2010, after I had finished my first entire Ravenstail ensemble, my mother invited me to assistant-teach a Chilkat class. I told her, “Uh, yeah, but I don’t weave Chilkat. How am I supposed to help?” She told me to just copy whatever she said and did. At the end of those two weeks, she said, “Now you’re a Chilkat weaver.” Sneaky. She was sneaky!

I finished my Chilkat headband shortly after that. Then she informed the Portland Art Museum that I could weave them a Chilkat Robe, so they’d have a trace-able teaching lineage of Chilkat Weaving. Clara Benson, Jennie Thlunaut, Clarissa Rizal, and Lily Hope, all in their permanent collection. I was flabbergasted. “I have four kids. What are you talking about? I can weave a robe?” She said, “Trust me, it will be your sanity saver. This is a gift, this Chilkat weaving.” It has been. It is. Every day. Thank you, Mama.

The first six months of weaving the Lineage Robe for Portland Art Museum, my mother and I would weaving right next to each other. If she was in Juneau, we’d work side by side on our projects. If not, we’d Facetime for hours. I’d initially call her with a “does this need two more warps?” Or “How far over should this go?” Then we’d set our phones face-up on our thighs and talk and weave together. Her on her last robe, and me on my first. Hours flew by with our hands flying through weft strands and braids.

October 2016, my mother was diagnosed  with stage 4 liver and colon cancer. The doctor told her to go home and “watch the deer.” Chemo or surgery wouldn’t prolong her life. I told my husband that I’d like to go be with her for a couple weeks. He said we would be moving to Colorado to be with her until she stood up again or she passed away. He’s a smart man. He also lost both his parents to colon/liver cancer. We moved. I helped my sister care for our mother. She lived 28 days after our arrival. And then we had her estate to sort through. And the memories. And I still had a robe to finish.

About six weeks after her passing, I set up my loom in my sister’s studio and tried to weave. All I could do was cry. I wanted to weave so badly the whole time she was ill, and now I couldn’t do it without her. No FaceTime. No simultaneous hands flying.

I called my weaver friend Ricky and told him I couldn’t weave. He reminded me of what I had told him the year his brother  unexpectedly passed away. Same issue. He couldn’t weave without breaking down. I had said, “Go to the back of the loom and put up the braids. Our weavings are the veil between the spirit and physical worlds.” Ricky repeated the same to me. I spent nearly a week putting up the braids on the back side of my loom. With no tears.

As I sat behind my loom on the seventh day, a wave of memories pushed through my entire body. Like a tidal wave of all the good memories, the joy, our laughter, our time spent together. Maybe only a few seconds counted but it was just like the movies where I felt our life memories in fast-forward, and then whoooosh, I was clear. I could weave again. No more braids.






The next day I returned to the front of my loom. I gave thanks for this gift of Chilkat weaving in my life. I silently asked my Mama to be with me and guide my hands if I forgot. Thank you, Mama, for leading me to this work. I’m grateful every day.

9 thoughts on “Grieving my mother

  1. Charla says:

    Well here I am, six am reading this and crying! So beautiful. A testimony to the strength of our bonds with life and death, how we grow and learn, the crossroads in our lives, our choices, our gifts, how we often learn the most looking back, how loss is not always loss and what becomes our greatest gifts, that most special of bonds with our mothers – but mostly the bond of love and how death does not really separate us. ❤️

  2. Fawn says:

    Thank you Lily Hope. We need your voice in your weaving , in your mothering, in your friendship and from your human heart. This is the artist’s gift, to voice putting up the braid moments, the bridges of experience between each of us that makes us human and kin.

  3. Darlene See says:

    You a large part of your mother’s legacy. I am Very proud of you Lily and of course so is she. The first time I met your mother was 1990 in Haines. She was talking to TJ outside the Senior Housing. When she saw me come around the corner of the building she asked TJ “Who is that?” Turns out Jennie told her she would meet someone who she wouldn’t charge to teach weaving. Seya asked her how would she know the person and Jennie said you’ll know…that winter in Juneau I was invited to learn how to weave Chilkat and RavenstaiI-I wove a headdress. She believed in me before I did. I miss our long chats on the phone. I wish I was available every time she invited me to participate in a gathering. Thankful for the adventures we did have together. I’m recovering from carpal tunnel surgery, in a few months i’ll get my left hand done. Once healed I can’t wait to continue weaving. I’m so glad you’ve picked up the torch and are continuing to strengthen our culture. Bravo Lily!

  4. Christina Cook says:

    Wow Lily. I feel like I know you through your words. I didn’t know your Mom for very long but we met in Juneau when she was teaching chilkat weaving to my Sister Donna Cranmer and about 6 other ladies. I loved her energy in our talking it felt like I had known her for ever. Then she came to my hometown Alert Bay and we got to talk and share so much more. I was one of her students here in the Bay. I have Tlingit ancestry and I was glad I got to learn from your Mom. She showed me how to do the weaving and with part of my weaving she said show me again, then she has a strange look on her face and said she had not seen anyone weave like that since Jenny. I didn’t understand what she meant but she said it was the OLD ways of weaving. She said they changed the way they spun the yarn and they way I was doing was making the weaving loose not strong doing it by reverse way how I was doing it. At least that is how Mom explained it to me. She said it is in my blood why it came out that way.
    I sure loved your Mom she sure was a special woman, I wish I could have spent more time with her and learned more.
    Thank you for sharing your story it brought me to tears feeling that loving energy of her being there right beside you with all the teachings.
    I hope I get to meet you one day and learn from you as I would love to weave in that same history line you have making my learning filled with much love and light
    Gilakasla (thank you) Lily 🌹💝

  5. Sue says:

    Lily , you are doing exactly what you are suppose to be doing …carrying on for Mama however going on your own journey … I grieve with you … missing my dearest friend and confidante …mama is so happy and proud of you and shining by your side bringing you the strength you need
    I’m ever so thankful for the time I spent with Clarissa … her energy was incredible and her ability to touch so many people was special
    Have a wonderful Thanksgiving with your family …❤️ As Mama always called me Suzy

  6. Terry says:

    Lily this is just beautiful. I do so regret not coming to visit you, those last few days. You and your mom had something so special. That will live on until you meet again. Your life keeps your ancestors alive. Your sneaky mom. She was the greatest. I miss her, too.

  7. G. Elaine Shorty says:

    Gunalchéesh Lily for sharing your beautiful story. Your mother was so special… I absolutely loved it when she would grace our traditional territory in Teslin.. please know I love and appreciate your presence as well. Your mom was unique, very talented, loving and caring… she truly was a very gracious teacher not only in weaving but with our traditional knowledge. Again Gunalchéesh!

    G. Elaine Shorty
    Na Shaak Tla

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