Grief: Sandy’s ASL Story of Her Son Being Shot

Hi, my name is Sandy Graham. I’m from Michigan. My son was shot when he was only 14 years old, back in 1997. He would have been 36 years old today. His name is Saleh (shows name-sign “S” shaking from side to side). What happened was that a boy named John, who was almost 16 years old, found his father’s hand gun in his parents’ bedroom closet. John’s father was a retired police officer and had three hand guns in his closet. There was no lock. John thought that it would be cool to show the gun to his friends, so he invited three friends into his car. My son was sitting in the front and the other two boys were in the back. John asked the three boys to play the Russian roulette game. He first put a bullet in the gun, then removed it. He thought the gun was empty, but there was actually one bullet already inside. He pulled the trigger and killed my son. The two boys in the back were okay.

This hit me so hard and broke my heart. He was such a young boy – he was gone already and would never come back. It was heartbreaking. It was suggested that I go to a grief support group, but I didn’t feel comfortable with that group. One of my close friends, who is hearing and knows sign, Kriya (shows name-sign K moving down right side of head), invited me to meet her friend named Smokey Rain (shows name-sign smoke-rain), who is a half Native American healer. She offered to do a ritual for my son and I accepted.

I had never experienced that Native American ritual before. She asked me to bring one of Saleh’s favorite things, so I brought a large quartz crystal from his desk. We went to the place where he was shot, at John’s parents’ house, to try to reach Saleh’s spirit through a ritual that involved chanting, and bring the spirit into the crystal. Then I brought the crystal home and asked Smokey Rain what to do next. She told me to focus on communicating with my son, so I thought it over and asked my son what he wanted me to do for him. The answer I received was to invite all of Saleh’s close friends from school over, because many of them had always come over to our house to play with my son, joke around, act funny, sign, and other things. Many kids loved him. He played both soccer and basketball. So, I reached out to one of his best friends, a boy, who agreed to come, along with 10 close friends, and my daughter, who was 11 years old at that time.

When Saleh’s friends came over, they felt better just being able to see Saleh’s things in his bedroom. Visiting helped them to feel better and heal. Many of them had been afraid to come over to my house. No one had come over to my house after Saleh died. I felt heartbroken, depressed and all alone. When his friends came over, I felt better. It helped me heal from my grief.

Next, Smokey Rain suggested that I go with her to a Native American community center to celebrate Saleh’s spirit. I went there and played the drums, felt the vibrations and it was such a beautiful ritual. I was filled with gratitude. After this, Smokey Rain suggested that we go to Saleh’s grave for another ritual, which was a truly beautiful one where we let Saleh’s spirit leave the earth and journey into the universe with the wind. I had to accept this and let him go. My grief went on and my healing happened slowly. Almost one year after Saleh died, Kriya invited me to go to a sweat lodge, which helped me feel better and heal from my grief. That was the last part of my journey. I had to go on with my life. I will always love my son in my heart forever.

(video description: Sandy is a light-skinned woman wearing glasses, and a purple top with a black jacket, standing with trees and sky behinder her, signing her story.)




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