TOPPENISH — Cissy Strong Reyes misses her sister, Rosenda Sophia Strong, every day. This time of year is especially difficult.
The holiday season is tough for those who have lost a loved one. They are surrounded by advertisements of happy family get-togethers and talk of gatherings. Friends ask about special plans. Memories and emotions resurface with the most mundane of seasonal routines.
Strong was last seen Oct. 2, 2018, after visiting Legends Casino, a short distance from her home, with an acquaintance. Her remains were found July 4 in an abandoned freezer in a field outside Toppenish. The 31-year-old mother of four was murdered.
Reyes had hoped to bring her sister home by now so she and their brother, Christopher Strong, could bury her near their mother at the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation in Oregon. But as the FBI investigation into the cause of Rosenda Strong’s death continues, her body is still in a lab. No arrests have been made.
“It’s frustrating,” Reyes said. “And then it makes me think like what the hell did her so-called friends do to my sister because it sounds horrible to me to make her fit in the stand-up freezer. It makes me hurt all over again.”
She knows the delay is not the investigators’ fault and tries to be patient, because answers and justice can take a long time coming. But they may not come at all. Few of the dozens of cases of missing and murdered Native people, along with mysterious deaths on and around the 1.3-million-acre Yakama Reservation, have been solved.
Reyes plans a community vigil from 2 to 4:30 p.m. Sunday in memory of her sister and to support other family and friends of missing and murdered indigenous people. It’s open to the public and will take place in the grassy area to the north of the Yakama Nation Cultural Center, 100 Spiel-yi Loop, Toppenish.
“Please come out and stand with myself and others in our community going through something tragic. Light candles for family members no longer here,” Reyes wrote in the event description on Facebook.
Prayer and a speaker are planned and those attending may talk about their loved ones. The Victim Resource Program of Yakama Nation Behavioral Health is also participating.
Dealing with grief is difficult, but holidays are the hardest, Reyes said. Experts urge those who are missing loved ones to step back from special events and limit seasonal decorations if they prompt too many painful emotions. Creating a plan to get through the holidays can help.
Reyes chooses to focus on memories of her sister. She enjoyed the holidays and hanging out on Thanksgiving at the homes of her sister and her brother. She usually took an extra plate of food for a friend, Reyes said.
“Rosenda wouldn’t stay to just eat. She stayed a week or two just to be home with family,” she said. “We don’t have a big huge family like most families. Our family time was always just myself, my husband and her daughter Karman and my sons Arin and Adin — but that made my house full of laughter and love.”
Thanksgiving always involved a battle over the wishbone with Reyes’ husband, Jeremy. “I remember one time it was even and she was like, ‘Now we both get our wishes bro!’” Reyes said.
“I miss all those memories because it’s all we (have) now,” she said.