By Carol A. Freeman
I looked around at my surroundings and wondered if was I doing the right thing. I came to New Mexico to try and find the answers that troubled me, but was this the right way to do it?
I was in the Sandia Mountain range of Albuquerque in Bear Canyon on sacred Native American ground, sitting on my sleeping bag surrounded by prayer ties I had made, and praying for a vision. My daughter Sharon had been in a coma now for ten months. I had several questions and no answers. I began to reflect back on what had brought me here.
Sharon Renee Freeman was born on Nov. 15, 1971, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Her reddish hair stood out when I first saw her in the hospital nursery surrounded by the other babies with much darker hair. She had brown eyes like her father.
When Sharon was nine months old we moved to Phoenix. We settled down on the west side of town and Sharon attended the nearby Catholic school. In her senior year of high school she began to look forward to college. We visited the campus at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff but she decided to go to the local community college in Mesa, which was closer to home.
In January 1991 my husband, Ron, got laid off from work and was unable to find work in Arizona. We had vacationed in Oregon the previous year and enjoyed the coast. We got the Oregon newspaper each week and Ron found jobs available for which he was qualified. I also looked for jobs and was offered a position at one of the major hospitals in Portland. Sharon was adamant about not going to Oregon with us. She was attending the local community college at the time and had plans to go to Arizona State University.
The third year we were in Oregon Sharon came to visit for Christmas. She had a new boyfriend and she seemed to be quite busy; prior to her visit we got a call from her boyfriend who told us he was concerned about her, and that she was taking drugs.
We confronted her with what we had learned and reluctantly she agreed to enter a rehabilitation center. It was during this time she was diagnosed for the first time with a bipolar disorder by the psychologist on staff at the center.
After completing the rehabilitation center program Sharon moved back to Arizona. The next few years were tumultuous. She had a car accident and was charged with a DWI. She was in jail for four months because of a second DWI.
July 23, 1999, I was at work processing paperwork when I got a phone call from a social worker at a hospital in Phoenix. She was calling from the Critical Care Unit, and told me Sharon had been in an accident and was critically injured and on life support. I felt a stabbing pain in my chest and I couldn’t catch my breath. Ron, our son Chris and I were on the next flight to Phoenix.
We arrived and went straight to the hospital where Sharon was now in a coma and being kept alive by a ventilator. We met with her neurosurgeon who showed us the CAT scan, which is an x-ray of her brain. He asked how long Sharon had the cyst on her brain. My husband and I were shocked. No doctor, nor Sharon, had ever told us of this cyst. The neurosurgeon also told us Sharon was not bipolar and it was the cyst that was affecting her sometimes-bizarre behavior. This was the first time we were aware that for years she had been misdiagnosed.
Months went by, Sharon was still in a coma with no signs of improvement. I contacted her with the help of a friend of mine who is a shamanic practitioner, named Michelle. We had tried everything western medicine had to offer including speech therapy, coma stimulation therapy and physical therapy but nothing seemed to help bring Sharon out of her coma.
Michelle told us she was going to a Lakota Sundance ceremony in Rosebud, South Dakota, and would pray for Sharon. A remembrance tree is part of the ceremony and she was going to put Sharon’s name on the tree to enlist the help of others. When Michelle returned from the Sundance ceremony she told me she had met a Lakota Medicine Man, Chief Phil Crazy Bull, who came from a long line of Lakota Chiefs, who told her he would be willing to go to Phoenix and see Sharon and perform a Native American healing ceremony for her.
On Sept. 22, 1999, Chief Phil Crazy Bull came to Phoenix and performed the ceremony. He felt Sharon would hopefully return in four days. On the fourth day the ophthalmologist examined Sharon and said he thought she was responding to the light he used during his examination. She also tried to lift her head off the pillow but grimaced in pain.
A part of me was anxious to have her return to us but another part of me didn’t want her to return if she was going to be in this much pain. I was torn between wanting her to return and shuddering to think of her returning to a life of pain and suffering. The four days came and went and I saw no more responses from Sharon.
During the next several months my husband and I attended many Inipi (sweat lodge) Lakota ceremonies conducted by Phil Crazy Bull. Phil told us about a Lakota ceremony called Hanbleca (Vision Quest, also often spelled “hanbleceya”), which is held each year in Albuquerque. I felt a strong sense it was something I needed to do to find the answers regarding Sharon, why she was not responding, and what should we do next.
The Hanbleca is a traditional Native American ceremony where one participates in two rounds of the sweat lodge for purification, and then goes into the mountains for four days and four nights with no food and no water to pray for a vision. Chief Phil Crazy Bull asks participants ahead of time to prepare four reasons why they wish to participate in this ceremony.
On May 15, 2000, my husband, son and I boarded a plane to Albuquerque. My son and I had been approved to go on this Vision Quest and my husband was going to be our supporter. The supporters pray for those going on the Vision Quest and carry up the mountain personal items for these people. The people on the Vision Quest were only allowed to carry up the mountain a sacred pipe they would pray with.
Chief assigned me an area on the mountain that was approximately 7 x 7 feet, called a Hochaka. I laid on my sleeping bag and closed my eyes. I felt like I was driving down a curved road and then a straight road and back to a curved road again. The information I received was that sometimes life is straight and smooth, and at other times there are curves in the road.
That night was cool, a welcome change from the intense heat of the day. The next day I watched as the Sun came up; as it moved across the sky I tried to determine by its position the time of day. The heat was suffocating and there was little shade. I continued to pray for guidance, still requesting answers to my prayers regarding Sharon.
By mid-afternoon I was feeling nauseous from the heat. Late in the afternoon I prayed as I never prayed before. I looked up at the clouds and told Sharon she needed to come and let me know what she wanted us to do. I let her know that whatever she decided we would support her decision. Although with all my heart I wanted her to return to us, I felt prepared for whatever she decided because I wanted what was best for her.
When the Sun went down, dark clouds entered the canyon area of the mountain. It was windy and stormy all night, but no rain. I heard some leaves rustling and thought it was the wind. I turned to see a beautiful golden mountain lion just outside my Hochaka. The mountain lion stood perfectly still, just looking at me.
I turned away and remembered what the Chief had told us: that you should offer your sacred pipe four times to anything that should appear to you. By doing this you receive the energy of whatever it is. I was terrified. Not looking at the mountain lion, I offered it my sacred pipe four times under the cover of my sleeping bag. After what seemed like a very long time I finally got up enough courage to look again, and the mountain lion was gone.
After a sleepless night, tired and hungry and thirsty and still in my sleeping bag, I looked up at the clouds again and all of a sudden a figure appeared in the clouds. It was Sharon. She had long hair as she always wore it, and seemed to be trying to relay a message.
The figure didn’t speak but thought patterns came to me. She was showing me her wrist where you would wear a watch and on it instead of a watch were two dollar-bills. The thought came “In time money.” Another vision appeared, of two people dancing; again a thought came: “Life is short, enjoy yourself.” Next, I saw a slide coming down from the clouds and two children were sliding down to Earth. The word “Reincarnation” came to me.
The final scene was a picture of a person with a heavy coat and hat on. The figure appeared sad and downtrodden. From the center of this figure appeared a thin figure of a girl with her hair piled up on the top of her head the way Sharon wore her hair. This figure moved slowly out from the downtrodden heavy figure and I knew it was Sharon’s spirit. The words came to me very clearly: “Freedom, free at last.” I started to cry.
I received my answer. As much as I didn’t like what I heard, I had promised I would support her decision. I knew at that moment she really didn’t want to return to her body. My prayers had been answered. I had experienced my vision and now I had to find my way off the mountain.
As I tried to make it down I fell and tumbled, landing right next to a stream. I realized I was lost. I began to drink some water from the stream and it tasted cool and refreshing. I sat by a tree and prayed for someone to find me. I prayed to the Chief that he or anyone of the supporters might hear me. After what seemed like a very long time I surrendered to the fact I may not be found and may actually die there. I found a sense of peace in this acceptance.
The thought came to me that I should cross the stream. I went across the stream, found a path and followed it in the direction I thought I should be going. I found my way out of the mountain, feeling relieved as I made my way down the path. At the bottom of the trail I found a place to rest. In a short time the Chief appeared and got out of his truck and asked if I had spoken to Sharon. I said I did and began to cry. He then said he had to go see the people on the mountain and that one of the supporters who had also just driven up would take me back to the sweat lodge area.
Ellen, one of the supporters, offered me some water on the way back to the lodge. On the way she said she wasn’t suppose to be at the mountain but felt someone needed her so she drove out. I then realized the power of prayer.
I completed three more Hanbleca (Vision Quest) experiences. In the Lakota tradition as taught by Chief Phil Crazy Bull, by doing a total of four Vision Quests you are honoring the four directions, North, South, East and West.
These Vision Quests changed my life. I now pray with my Chanupa (sacred pipe) when I feel the need to do so, and pray each evening before bed. On one of my Vision Quests I asked the question, “How can I bring my spirituality into my daily life?” The answer I received was, “When you can remain calm and centered in the middle of chaos, then you have brought it into your life.” I now live in Las Vegas, which can be very chaotic — so I now know why I am living here.
I have learned three things that have helped me through the years: silence, prayer and listening. If I can go to a very quiet place and pray and then listen, I generally find an answer to any question I may have. My Vision Quest experiences have also taught me that I appreciate life and the people around me. I always finish a conversation with the special people in my life with “I love you.”
Carol Freeman grew up in New England in an Irish Catholic family. She lived in Arizona for eighteen years where she first met a Navajo woman and was intrigued by the teachings of the Native Americans. She now lives in Nevada and continues the practices honoring the Native American culture. You can visit her website at www.carolfreeman.info.