I learned, recently, that this is a common phrase among my family members – “an hour of life, is life.” I remember the first time I heard my mom use the phrase, not more than a few years ago, I latched onto it immediately. Since then, I have realize that many of my relatives use the phrase – it’s kind of a family mantra, which makes sense, then, that when I heard it, it reverberated within me—“Yes! An hour of life is life.”
To me it was a clarion call to not waste a single hour – to never think, “Oh, but I only have an hour…” and instead embrace the hour for all its potentiality—I have an hour, what will I do with it?
A few weeks ago, I received a phone call from one of my spiritual teachers, a senior disciple of Sri Swami Satchidananda, whom I had immediately recognized and accepted as my guru when I first encountered him in the Summer of 1965. I was initiated by him in 2001 and received a mantra that I repeated daily for all these years. Yet here was Sary telling me I needed to adopt a new mantra, a prayer or praise and veneration for the fierce Hindu Goddess Kali. Here is exactly who I need these days, brandishing her ten arms, beheading demons and absorbing their blood, in a sari made from the skin of a Bengal tiger. She wears a belt of skulls and manifests her fierceness with a red tongue hanging from her lips. Creator and Destroyer, she is impeccable she catches their blood so that they don’t proliferate. Precisely who I need know after my diagnosis, six months ago of glioblastoma.
If theology is rooted in experience, how do we move from experience to theology? In my life there have been a number of key moments of “revelation” that have shaped my thealogy. One of these was the moment of my mother’s death.
In 1991 my mother was diagnosed with cancer. While she was being treated, I realized that I had never loved anyone as much as I loved her. When I wrote that to her, she responded that “this was the nicest letter” she “had ever received” in her life and she invited me to come home to be with her and my Dad.
My mother died only a few weeks after I arrived, in her own bed as she wished. She was on an oxygen machine, and I heard her call out in the dark of early morning. When my Dad got to the room, he tried to turn up the oxygen, but it didn’t help. Then he called the doctor who reminded him that my mother did not want to go to the hospital under any circumstances.
It’s been just over a week. Last Tuesday night to be exact. That’s the night the four of us huddled around our beloved companion of sixteen and a half years and said goodbye.
Buck became a part of our family when he was three months old. We were living in Oakland, California at the time. My son was five and my daughter had just turned one. My husband was coaching for the Raiders and he was gone all the time. It wasn’t a great time to get a puppy on paper—but our hearts said otherwise, so we did.
Just a little over a year earlier I had said goodbye to Tino. He’s the Blue Heeler that found me in a dream when I was living in Santa Fe, New Mexico. That morning I woke up and just had to get a puppy. It was a visceral pull. And I went to the Santa Fe Human Society and there was the puppy from my dream. He didn’t look like any dog I had ever seen until my dream the night before.
Recently, facing the reality that I do not have definitive or perhaps, static “answers” for my little one when she asks me about death, I find comfort in Carol’s words—in the idea that I don’t have to “answer” my daughter with one, forever “truth.” Because I have to ability to give her “enough,” at least for now.
As I sit down to write, I am reminded of a post I wrote many years ago entitled “Where Do Cat’s Go,” about my mother’s cat, Mimi, who passed away at the age of twenty-four. At that time, I was struggling with what death meant outside of an Evangelical Christian ideology. I had rejected the doctrine of heaven (and hell) itself; but doubt lingered. Fear still held sway over my emotions. I wanted to “believe in,” something else. Whether to regain control or simply for comfort, I hoped for new belief.
Carol Christ, who has touched so many of us, who was my teacher and whom I miss, replied to that post (paraphrasing here), “Why does [Mimi] have to go anywhere? Isn’t it enough that she is a loved and remembered part of life?”
At the time it was not enough. But recently, facing the reality that I do not have definitive or perhaps, static “answers” for my little one when she asks me about death, I find comfort in Carol’s words—in the idea that I don’t have to “answer” my daughter with one, forever “truth.” Because I have to ability to give her “enough,” at least for now.
As a feminist mom, I frequently think about what will give my daughter strength and a sense of her value outside of hetero-patriarchal standards. I am also an ex-vangelical agnostic married to an atheist. He and I want our daughter to have choice in her spirituality and freedom to explore her own directions. I think this is a good commitment, though it is frequently a little more difficult in practice. My partner wants to protect our daughter from all religion and Christianity in particular. I tend to take an educational approach, answering her questions about spiritual matters with, “well, people believe all sorts of things about that,” then listing several beliefs or mythologies that might give her some information on the matter.
As I have gotten older, I find I am drawn more to non-anthropomorphic, inexpressable-in-words, nature, and everyday focused visions of the Divine. Whereas before my spiritual practice involved more rituals and circles, unusually indoors, with others, now I more often engage in solo quiet contemplation, outside in the wild when I can. I think more about ways of being rather than ways of doing and more about the small messages I want to leave to generations to come instead of major accomplishments. I feel as if I am contracting in towards the center of the spiral of my spiritual journey.
Preface: I am submitting this story for publication because it occurred during the Christian Holy Week and because it involves me, a woman who follows her dreams… That I did so in this instance was important in ways that I cannot comprehend rationally. But I know that it involved creating space for some kind of passing over from one way of being to another. Every word is true.
Roy comes Home
In the dream I’m creating a ceremony to welcome Roy home – it’s very elaborate – yet fluid – it’s fine when I make mistakes – I am creating the space for his death but also welcoming him home. I am also asking for gifts that are expensive. Someone, I think it’s Roy, says humorously and with kindness, “You don’t want much do you?” I laugh. He is teasing me. I finish the ceremony, and I see Roy in an old dented truck pulling on his ears – he can’t hear me but we have made contact. There is such Joy in his heart that I know All Will Be Well….
The night before last I had a dream that has stayed with me. My dreams rise out of my body to teach and to comfort me so I pay close attention. I had recently written tributes for two men, Lynn Rogers, bear biologist, and Rupert Sheldrake, biologist and plant physicist. Both of these men mentored me like a “father” each encouraged me to believe in myself, celebrated my original thinking and told me to trust my intuition. Writing about these mentors reminded me of my own father with whom I had a most difficult relationship…
I am talking to my mother (she has been dead for 13 years) about having found someone who could help me with math and stuff I can’t do because of dyslexia. In this conversation my mother is not a personal figure (when she appears as herself it usually means that I am going to face some difficulty – As an impersonal ‘great mother’ figure she is very helpful). She replies that my fatherwantedto teach me all these things but he just couldn’t.So many problems were in the way. I choke up weeping over this knowing (and my tears carry over into waking) because I know that “my mother” is speaking the truth. I feel such heartbreak for both my dad and for me. Neither of us had a chance… as I awaken from this dream in the middle of the night Lily b., my dove, is bellowing.He is reiterating the truth of the dream.
Early in January I discovered a chickadee with a broken wing floundering in the snow. I rescued him, providing him with a safe haven in the house, hoping he might recover use of his wing. For the first couple of days we conversed at the edge of the mesh that covered the sides of his cage and he seemed pleased to be with me. I named him Blue.
On the third morning, a solitary chickadee chirped just behind me outside the window. I immediately suspected it was his mate because Blue became almost frantic jumping back and forth on the mesh that faced the window.
After that incident, things changed radically. Blue bit me hard whenever I changed his water. He tried to escape repeatedly. I knew that to let him go was to consign him to death because sub-zero temperatures were the norm for this time of year. I resisted. It took a few more days to face the truth. I could feel and sense it. I had to let him go although I knew he would die.Continue reading “Wings by Sara Wright”
My Aunt Sophie passed into another realm last week. Not from COVID, but, from a life well-lived.
At 98, she lived a remarkable life. She wasn’t famous, nor did she ever strive to be, but what she was, was what love should be, can be, and is.
In her 98 years she played trumpet in the high school marching band, she had a mean left hook, and she was a Rosie the Riveter, where she actually worked as a welder on ships being built for WWII in Richmond, CA. More, she was a devoted wife, she was a sister and caretaker, she was an incredible grandmother, and, she was a mother. Not just to her seven children, but to her grandchildren, her great-grandchildren, neighborhood kids, and to my sister and me, her nieces. Continue reading “The Legacy of Wisdom by Karen Leslie Hernandez”
We may all remember 2020 as the year when we could no longer look away from death. Our western culture has hidden death away in hospitals and funeral homes for generations. However, in these past months we have all been inundated with daily images of COVID-19 patients dying alone in ICUs, terrified people and wildlife consumed by flames or flood, televised funerals of victims of racial violence, children starving due to droughts, the loss of icons of courage and compassion like Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elijah Cummings, and John Lewis, and so much more. Even as we seem to be surrounded by death, we risk being inured to its tragedy by the sheer numbers of dead from these and other causes.
How we survive this time as individuals and a society may depend in part on how we are able to answer the question “Were we able to mourn each life lost – human or non-human — as a sacred being, unique and irreplaceable? Did we ignore the suffering of others or did we find deeper compassion?”
Content Warning: Mention of childhood abuse, abandonment, suicide, trauma and death.
I am a successful product of child abandonment.
Raised in an abusive home, my mother left when I was in 7th grade. From that point on, I spent an excessive amount of time alone, making decisions that a teenager shouldn’t have to make, making my own dinner, and eating that dinner alone, in deafening silence, time and time again. Doing homework sitting on my bed, unsupported, I remember thinking, Why bother … no one cares if I get this done, why should I? – which eventually led to dropping out of high school. It wasn’t until I was an adult and started serious therapy, did I understand how this trauma played into every decision I made. By all accounts and statistics, I should be a non-functioning adult. Although I am a high school drop-out, I am studying for my Doctorate and will graduate next May. Don’t get me wrong, I have idiosyncrasies and the physical aliment I suffer from the most is a volatile digestive system (controlled with a healthy diet) – a norm for kids and adults with abusive backgrounds.
Abandonment Trauma is real and unpleasant, to say the least, and it comes in many forms. I never really understood how it really affected me until my first trip overseas alone. And then the next trip and then the next trip. All would find me sitting in my hotel room upon arrival, terrified. Paralyzed. Unable to think. Confused. Feeling as if I lost someone, or, I was lost. Wanting to go home. Calling my then husband, crying, saying I couldn’t stay. It was scary and confusing, because I didn’t understand why I was so afraid. I had already lived overseas with my husband, so, why were these trips so frightening? Then a therapist finally helped me understand – they asked me what I envisioned when I was in those places – and I suddenly realized my subconscious had me sitting on my bed in silence, all alone, eating dinner – and all that came with that memory. There it was. The association to the horrible, lonely reality of my childhood, was what was driving my fight or flight as an adult. Continue reading “Abandonment Trauma: Facing the Pandemic With My Fists-up by Karen Leslie Hernandez”
Friends, it has been a few months since I’ve posted in this community. I’m amazed at how much our world has changed since then. Here in the northern hemisphere, spring came and went. It felt like a tide of turmoil rolled in, leaving debris all along the shore and now we are trying to clean it up while keeping our eyes on the sea for more dangerous waves that are coming.
The issues we now face began before March, but for many of us, that was when the COVID-19 pandemic began to alter our patterns of daily existence. In-person instruction at my university and most schools was suspended and spring semester courses shifted online. In March and April, we quarantined, self-isolated, and sheltered in place. While a gradual re-opening of businesses and services has occurred in the months since then, I don’t know anyone who has resumed daily life as it was before. The virus continues to spread and the death toll rises.
Over the past few weeks of lockdown in Greece, I have asked myself numerous times: if we can shut down the world economy because of a virus, why don’t we shut everything down until we end war or find real solutions to global climate change? In my mind the horrors of war are much worse than the horrors of disease and dying and the threat and reality of global extinctions pose a much greater threat to humanity (not to mention nature) than the Coronavirus.
Why is it that we are willing to take extreme measures to defeat the Coronavirus but we are not willing to take extreme measures to end war or to stop global climate change? A thought keeps creeping into the back of my mind: the fight against disease and death is (understood to be) a fight against Mother Nature and (sadly) we are well used to fighting against Her. If we recognized that human beings have brought the Coronavirus upon ourselves, we would have to face up to our responsibility for it. Continue reading “Coronavirus: The Villain Is Not Mother Nature: It Is Ourselves by Carol P. Christ”
“When life hands you lemons, sometimes you have to make applesauce.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about something my grandmother would always tell me: “When life hands you lemons, sometimes you have to make applesauce.” I know, it sounds crazy, but life right now appears to be more on the crazy than the sane side.
We’re all in a state of uncertainty right now. The news is scary. Twitter is scary. Heck, even TikTok is losing parts of its humor. Everywhere we seem to turn, it’s more information about COVID-19, new cases, new lockdowns, and new things that we shouldn’t do for the foreseeable future. Continue reading “When Life Hands You Lemons… by John Erickson”
At the end of Anita Diamant’s novel, THE RED TENT, Dinah—the same young woman who is only briefly mentioned in the biblical account (Genesis 34)—dies after a long and full life. The biblical text tells us that Dinah “went out to visit the women of the region” and that “Schechem son of Hamor the Hivite, prince of the region, saw her…seized her and lay with her by force” (vss. 1-2). The passage is often titled “The Rape of Dinah.”
In Diamant’s version of the story, Dinah and King Hamor’s son engage in consensual sex. In keeping with the biblical account, the king then attempts to negotiate a bride price with Jacob (Dinah’s father), but Jacob and his sons are reluctant to agree to the marriage. They demand soon thereafter that all the men in Hamor’s kingdom undergo circumcision as a bride price. On the third day after surgery, the sons steal into the city and kill the men.
After just a mere mention of Dinah’s “rape” in Genesis 34, she disappears from the story. In THE RED TENT, Diamant not only gives Dinah a powerful voice, she also weaves a wonderful tale of mothers, daughters, heartache, betrayal, loss, love, and joy. Dinah gives birth to her lover’s son in Egypt, develops a strong bond and working relationship with the midwife, Meryt, and eventually falls in love with Benia, a master carpenter.
In my final year of college, my B.A. in Intercultural Studies required me to take a daily accelerated Spanish class. Thus I met Ñacuñán Sáez, the dazzlingly urbane young professor from Argentina who had recently come via Italy and Oxford to our tiny liberal arts college in western Massachusetts. Ñacuñan spoke four languages, adored Maria Callas, and showed up at his first faculty dinner party amongst the snowshoes, mufflers and plaid lumberjack coats of the Berkshire Mountains sporting a white dinner jacket and carrying a bottle of Campari.
Ñacuñán taught with theatricality and flair, keeping us students awake and interested, even at the ungodly hour of 8.30 am each day. The sample sentences he concocted as grammar exercises were gems of Latin American magical realism, provoking laughter as well as thoughtful discussion about different beliefs, realities and worlds.
I remember the first time I killed a living animal for food. I was a college student. I was traveling with other students on a month-long backpacking trip along the Sea of Cortez in Baja, Mexico. It was a very long time ago, yet the experience was so impactful that the memories are etched into my being.
Truth be told, my prey wasn’t all that sexy. It was scallops. There are certain benefits to “hunting” scallops. They have no legs or fins to force someone into a chase, no arms to fight back, and no reproving eyes to haunt dreams. All fairly milquetoast. Or so it appeared to me on the surface.
The way to harvest scallops is straightforward. They are made up of two shells, the lower one is plastered to rocks in the water. The upper one moves up and down by pivoting on a membrane. A diver plunges into the depths of the sea to find them. Then a diver inserts a knife between the two halves of the opened shells in order to cut the membrane at the back. There is delectable meat inside both shell halves. The top shell will come free to be taken to the surface. The meat is cut out of the lower shell, which is immovably attached to the rock.
I wish, desperately, that you were still here. I miss you everyday. My body aches with grief. Tears run down my face.
It was so hard to say goodbye. Sometimes, I feel like I should have done more. I always thought you’d live to be older even though you made it to (nearly) 16. I couldn’t imagine life without you. Some days I still can’t.
But, the vet said you’d broken your jaw, probably from cancer. You struggled to walk from the arthritis and now your balance was off. The medication we put you on to help the infection in your jaw caused you to not eat for two days. You were so skinny. I couldn’t even keep you comfortable anymore. You cried so much. I knew, even though I didn’t want for it to be time, it was.Continue reading “Goodbye…and Hello by Ivy Helman”
Oh boy oh boy oh boy—another June 17 has passed (I’m writing this on June 18) and I’m still here. Every year, this is my day to be careful. And to keep breathing. I have two specific associations with June 17. The first, and lesser, is that it is (or was) the birthday of my last serious boyfriend. I really thought we were going to get married. That didn’t happen, and as we were breaking up, he gave me a (probably expensive) bottle of My Sin perfume. I hurled it against the wall behind the dumpster. So much for that. And him.
The real story: I began having asthma attacks in the late 80s. Nearly every night. A friend took me to every doctor we could think of, but none of them helped me. (At the time, my asthma was acute; now it’s merely chronic and under control.) In June 1992, I was very busy doing freelance writing when I could find an assignment, looking for a real job, serving as vice president of the Orange County chapter of Women In Management (which meant I booked the speaker every month)…and breathing. My second book, A Woman’s Book of Rituals and Celebrations, was being published, and I was teaching a weekly class called Practicing the Presence of the Goddess in my living room. Continue reading “My Near-Death Experience, Or How I Met the Goddess Face to Face By Barbara Ardinger”
In Europe and Mexico, younger women and men of all ages regularly offer me their seats on buses and metros. I usually refuse, although at home in New York City, I’m always a little miffed when no one bothers to make a place for me. Yet cashiers never balk when I ask for a senior ticket at the movies or in museums. At first I was surprised: how do they know, I wondered. But of course it’s the gray hair, along with the wrinkles and sagging skin that now mark me.
I first decided to let my hair be gray fourteen years ago, in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. I was on the road, blindly driving north with my laptop, my passport, two cats, and a friend beside me when I knew it was time to let nature run its course. For some ten years before that, I’d been religiously dying my hair dark brown or black, visiting a hair salon every four to six weeks for long hours of “treatments,” compulsively keeping my hair in a meticulously trimmed pixie cut. But the storm emphatically taught me how life can definitively change us: we are transformed, sometimes in an instant, both internally and externally, by our experiences–and I no longer wanted (or needed) to hide that change. I enjoyed letting my hair return to its natural colors, and took pleasure in the new measure of respect some people gave me. Continue reading “Embracing Elderhood by Joyce Zonana”
In November, my paternal grandmother passed. She was five days away from her 93rd birthday. As I was/am going through the grieving process, I started to actively recall all the studies I have done regarding death and grieving practices across the globe and throughout the centuries. Mixed with the grieving process was constructing a January term class called “Goddesses Around the World.” As I marked each culture, religion, and goddesses we would be studying I kept coming back to an interesting fact. In many ancient cultures, it was the divine feminine who oversaw death, not only at times as the bringer of death but more importantly, as the guardian of the dead, the protector of all those that have gone from the earthly realm. Continue reading “The Goddesses Ereshkigal and Epona and Their Help in My Grief by Anjeanette LeBoeuf”
Fourteen years ago, I was pregnant with William Valentine. I had no idea what to expect. I knew only that I was in a body, and it was pregnant. Things happened to me, to my body, that seemed extrinsic to my person, so much so that for most of those forty weeks, I felt as though the doctor’s office was having the baby, and I was a mere observer. But, when the time came to deliver the baby, I realized it was my body that was trying to make passage for another’s. The particularities of myself and the baby’s self seemed to fade away into something more vital and primordial in the process of the transmission of life. After a safe delivery, I felt a deep and curious gratitude that was beyond the gratitude I had for my child or for our health. This strange gratitude was born of the passage I had been so fortunate to experience, that is, this novel yet ancient, essential yet unparalleled dimension of human being-ness. I had given live birth, and I was grateful to know what that was like. In that experience, I was more connected to my human brothers and sisters than I had ever been before, including to this new baby, who I knew in my deepest self was more fundamentally a brother human than even he was my own child. I knew that in this transmission, I had helped a fellow traveler, and that transmitting life was simple even while it was giant in scope. The experience was and would always be about walking with each other, from the cradle to the grave, in our vulnerability, in our fragility, in our humility, and in that walk, to find our strength, our dignity, and our luminescence, as persons, as creatures that think and speak and love. To have been a party to another’s coming to be, this was an occasion of the greatest gratitude I had known.
In accompanying my father in this final stage of his life during these challenging and difficult months as he journeyed toward his death, I felt that same vital and primordial passage of being that I had in giving birth. While it was not my body that this time labored and worked, I was party to his experience. I witnessed his courage and another kind of transmission of life. For, I saw a man go from self-concern to other-concern; from hope of getting well to hope to of making things better for others; I witnessed a man move from verbal complaint to silent focus; and I heard his relocation of worry for himself to concern for me because he knew I was hurting as I was watching him, mostly powerless to do anything but sit next to him. I saw a man graduate from a regular man to an elder and then to naked spirt in God’s care, and I was honored to be one of his midwives on that journey. In his final hours, he became full of grace, and he fulfilled the trajectory of becoming the father and man he always intended to be. It was an honor to behold, and I am grateful.
It is October, the veil is thin the year is waning the leaves are turning I am trying to say goodbye to my grandmother she is dying. I do not know what to say.
The leaves are red the sky is blue I saw a crow in the tree behind the house.
The threads of this year are becoming thinner.
The threads of her life too are becoming thinner
What do I say to the one who breathed life into my father who wove his cells into being who cradled him as a baby who wept into his hair.
Carrying the cells
of the generations The chain of life
continuing to spiral through time, and place,
and distance and falling leaves.
What do I say as life thins, as breath fades
What do I say when all that remains is the space between us
What do I say
when I catch a glimpse of the swift unraveling of time the wrinkles in eternity
What do I say
as time folds in on itself and now it is me in the bed and my son, gray-haired, blue-eyed is reading to me in a quiet voice
as the chapter comes to a close.
Part 2: The Answer
That night, I dreamed of my grandmother she shrank to the size of a small child I picked her up and held her against my body We looked in the mirror cheek to cheek and smiled together I kissed her face and told her: “You are wonderful.” Then we danced around the room together her head against my shoulder I kissed her again on her white hair and no more words were needed.
Part 3: The Memorial
At this time last year, as the leaves fell and the wheel of the year dipped into darkness, my last grandparent died. I recognize that I am fortunate in having reached nearly forty while still having a living grandmother, but there is still such a sensation of finality and ending in saying goodbye to the final grandparent. Twyla was my paternal grandmother and I was not as close to her as I was to my maternal grandmother who died in 2013, but she is the woman who wove my father’s bones into being, and her death left a hole in our family and a sensation of an ended section in the tapestry of generations.
After the dream I write of above, I went back to see her a final time, five hours before she took her last breath. This time, I sat with her alone. I kissed her on her white hair and told her she was wonderful. I played her a song (Beyond the Gates by T. Thorn Coyle and Sharon Knight). I spoke to her of her good work in the world, that she had done it, that she’d finished her work, and that she had given so much and done so well. As a mother myself, the sensation of how powerful it is to have seen all your babies through to adulthood and into grandparenthood themselves filled the room. My dad, her second child and only son, has teenage grandchildren now himself. My grandmother’s youngest child of her five children is in her mid-fifties (and also a grandmother to teenagers). Sitting in the darkened room, listening to the song play, I was staggered by the magnitude of having seen each of your own children through their lives and into grandparenthood. While there are many ways to leave a legacy and it is not a “failure” by any means to not see all of your children into grandparenthood or to not have children yourself, what a gift it must be to bear witness to these generations if it does, in fact, unfold in that way, and to see your own tiniest baby have grandchildren of her own. This is something I hope to see for myself.
I then had the blessing, the honor, the privilege of being asked to prepare a memorial service for my grandmother. Five years ago, I was also asked to facilitate the memorial ceremony for my other grandmother. The unique, uncommon blessing of fulfilling this role for both of my grandmothers is not lost on me, as I know no one else who has had the experience of serving both sides of their family of origin in this way. I felt so honored to be trusted to help guide my family through both of these experiences of loss and grief. I spoke to my husband of how humbled, grateful, and fortunate I feel that I have a family who would let me do this, not just for one grandma, but for both of them, and he said, “you know, honey, maybe we should all be grateful to you that you’re willing to do this for us.” So, I received that recognition into my heart with appreciation as well.
It is powerful to create ceremonies that acknowledge transitions within the life of your family. During this ceremony for my grandmother we each had time to speak of her, I had poems I had written, and readings to share. We had a centerpiece with flowers, floating candles, and photos of her, and we each held handfuls of herbs that we offered into the bowl of water as we shared our stories and memories. Each person took time to do so and spoke with care, tenderness, love, and laughter. Sharing this time and space together and creating a container for people to be heard in their grief and love rather than participating in the type of “canned” or impersonal memorial service that may be more commonly offered by religious groups, was what we needed to say goodbye to this woman who wove a part of our souls. My aunt said: this is the kind of send-off that everyone needs, and that felt very true and real.
My extended family is not pagan or liberal or alternatively religiously minded and as I planned the memorial I was conscious of not wanting it to be “too much” for them. As I typed my outline, I’d first included a song and other practices common to other rituals and retreats I lead and when I heard that my aunts and cousins were coming, I’d removed the song and some ritual elements, fearing making them uncomfortable. They then said they weren’t coming, so I added the singing back in. On the day of the memorial, they did in fact come, and I decided we would sing anyway, whether comfortable and familiar or not. We sang the same song to begin and to end the memorial (“We Are a Circle”) and when I looked around the circle the second time we sang and saw that everyone there holding hands, their faces wet with tears, were all singing too, I knew that it had worked.
If you have the opportunity to create ceremonies and rituals of personal meaning for your own family, please do it. It holds so much value, such life and power and love, in a way that is difficult to create by someone outside of the family. A small group of people who really care and who are willing to connect with each other in a meaningful, connected, vulnerable way, births so much real magic together. This container can be created by you, for you, and for the ones you love the most.
“Everyone can do the life-changing, world-renewing work of magic…the Dalai Lama said, ‘It’s not enough to pray and meditate; you must act if you want to see results.’ We are called to offer real service to others, to the Goddess. That service may take many forms: mopping the floor after the party, priestessing rituals, healing, planning, teaching, carrying the heavy cauldron from the car, sitting with a dying friend, writing up the minutes for a neighborhood meeting, organizing a protest to protect a sacred place from development, writing letters to Congress, training others in nonviolent civil disobedience, growing food, or changing the baby’s diapers. All of these can be life-changing, world-renewing acts of magic…”
—Starhawk and Valentine, The Twelve Wild Swans
There is a companion audio recording available about this memorial service preparation, the death of my grandmother, and about how to weave a strong “ritual basket” to carry a ceremony. The first part is an audio ritual for my online circle with thoughts about claiming your magic, fear of the label of witch, etc., so if you want to skip past that only to the memorial information and ritual theory, skip to 16:20 in the audio:
Molly has been “gathering the women” to circle, sing, celebrate, and share since 2008. She plans and facilitates women’s circles, seasonal retreats and rituals, mother-daughter circles, family ceremonies, and red tent circles in rural Missouri and teaches online courses in Red Tent facilitation and Practical Priestessing. She is a priestess who holds MSW, M.Div, and D.Min degrees and wrote her dissertation about contemporary priestessing in the U.S. Molly and her husband Mark co-create Story Goddesses, original goddess sculptures, ceremony kits, and jewelry at Brigid’s Grove. Molly is the author of Womanrunes, Earthprayer, and The Red Tent Resource Kit and she writes about thealogy, nature, practical priestessing, and the goddess at Patreon and at Brigid’s Grove.
My father is dying, and I am haggard with grief and exhaustion. Over a month of frantically arranging child care, driving to the ICU in the middle of the night, fighting to protect my Dad from neglect and malpractice, chasing case managers, begging doctors, negotiating with nurses, sensitive, depleting, agonizing family debates about hospice and DNR, and hour after hour sitting and holding my Dad’s hand, singing, comforting, soothing, reassuring. Washing his face. Massaging salve into his feet and legs. Continually checking to see if he is too cold, too warm, in pain, breathing ok. Weeping as I drive home through snow and rain and dark, watching car accidents happen just one lane over, trying to soothe my frazzled and anxious little children, support my husband in his degree program, and not lose my own career entirely.
So when my daughter asked me, “Mummy, why does Grampy have to die?” I felt dizzy for a moment with my exhausted, overwhelmed, haggard inability to have an instant, perfectly formulated response to provide comfort and meaning for my child. Finally, I said, “Because, darling, if no one died, no one could live. All of us, our bodies are made from the food we eat, which is made from plants, which is made from dirt, which is made from everything that has died. Death is the only way for life to exist. Death allows life, births life, IS life. Death is our only path and connection to eternity.” Continue reading “Death is a Gift, and Christ is a Hag by Trelawney Grenfell-Muir”
The holiday season is a particularly difficult time for grief. Whether it is grieving someone who died earlier in the year as you celebrate your first holiday season without them, or the lasting memories of loved ones who are no longer present at family gatherings, this time of year makes grief bubble to the surface. Since this is my first holiday season without my little brother, who died in March, I’ve planned ahead with coping strategies that I’d like to share with other feminists struggling to grieve through the holidays.
Upon the death of a loved one, most people in the West are offered commodified grief, costly funerals, and stifled feelings pre-packaged as dignified tradition. When deathcare became a commercial enterprise at the turn of the twentieth century, there was what mortician and author Caitlin Doughty calls a seismic shift in who was responsible for the dead. “Caring for the corpse went from visceral, primeval work performed by women to a ‘profession,’ an ‘art,’ and even a ‘science,’ performed by well-paid men. The corpse, with all its physical and emotional messiness, was taken from women. It was made neat and clean, and placed in its casket on a pedestal, always just out of our grasp (Caitlin Doughty, From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death, 136).”
My father was a very intelligent man who tested “genius” in the army. Drafted into the army at a young age, he decided not to take advantage of the “GI Bill” that would have paid for his college education after the war, because he already had a family to support. My father was lucky not to have served in combat. Scheduled for the invasion of Japan, he served in its occupation. I once asked him if he saw the devastating effects of the atomic bombs that the United States dropped on Japan. Instead of answering directly, he said dismissively, “I suppose you think I was traumatized.” I imagine that on some level he was, because unlike many WW II veterans he never spoke about his time in the army, and most tellingly, he was the only member of his unit not to sign up for the “extra pay” to be earned in the reserves, and thus the only one not to be called up to serve in Korea. Although he never questioned the US government’s right to wage war, he always told me, “war is hell.” Though he was not at all pleased when I became active in the anti-war movement, I found some of the roots of my opposition to war in my father’s refusal to glorify it. Continue reading “Gifts from My Father by Carol P. Christ”
I was asked recently to present my work on shame and guilt for a documentary about the experience of being in a caregiving relationship. Initially, I felt concerned. My conceptualization of the idea of caregiving circulated around 1) aspects of parenthood and 2) the inevitable life situation of witnessing a parent’s death. I have no experience with either of these. I expressed my concern to the producer and one of the cameramen as we discussed the protocol for the shoot. They suggested I try to tell stories. This perplexed me a little further. Then, in order to offer me a context, they posed questions about times I might have cared for people in the past. Their inquiry uncovered a large range of possible, personal caregiving experiences upon which I could draw. For me, these include experiences involving my in-laws, my aunt’s dying of cancer when I was a child, and, most currently, my tending to a friend who had a massive stroke at the brain stem at the age of 40.
What struck me most during the conversation was the way that I eschewed being called a “caregiver.” The cameraman noted that this was not an unusual phenomenon. Apparently, people consider the word “caregiver” somehow stigmatizing and resist its use. AARP has tried to come up with an alternative term but has not been successful. (As an aside, AARP’s website has useful resources for the caregiver.) The stigma undulating beneath the undertaking of caregiving aligns it with the experience of shame. Continue reading “Shame and the Caregiving Relationship by Stephanie Arel”
My father died on July 6, 2017, 98 years, 4 months, 12 days. The last time I saw him was in the spring of 2004. During that visit, he gave me “the silent treatment” (refused to look at me or speak to me) when I stepped over an invisible line. That was not the first time, but it would be the last. When I gave lectures in California in 2008 and 2010, I agonized and yet made the decision not to visit him. I did not want to give him the chance to hurt me again.
My father and I kept in touch at Christmas and birthdays. In recent years we found our mutual interest in the family genealogy to be safe ground on which we could make contact. I was pleased to be able to tell him that I found the place of origin of our branch of the Christ family in Unterpreppach, Lower Bavaria when I visited Germany in the spring of 2016 with my cousin Bill. My father was with me in spirit when I visited the Christ family graves at Most Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Cemetery in Williamsburg, Brooklyn in the winter of 2016.
One of the bigger problems with being the only Classics major at a Jesuit university is that all my friends were fairly old men before I had even reached drinking age. Now, they are pretty much gone back to the cradle of the grave, save one, who is on his way to a remote retirement home. As a young woman, my coterie wasn’t a terrible problem for me because some deep part of my psyche had been convinced, since I was about nine years old, that I myself was an old man. I sort of felt at home reading about the Second Punic War and identifying with the sexual ramblings of the naughty old Latin poets, noting between me and my teacher-purveyors of such materials only the occasional, modest differences in skin elasticity and dental sheen.
I never felt like a girl, although, to be sure, one’s ability to assess such a thing is limited to one’s observations and conceptions about what, for example, a girl is or does or thinks. I found myself “ungirlike” in comparison with my conceptions of “girl-ness,” perhaps most notably in the operations of my mind. I felt “old” and “serious.” I remember contemplating with enormous focus the abstractions of total being and absolute nothingness from my nursery room. My big wheel was solid black, and my Dad got me into fishing and hooking live bait. I had read Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil by eighth grade; my favorite book was Camus’ The Plague until it was replaced by Hesse’s more romantic investigations in Narcissus and Goldmund; and I spent my days writing philosophical poems and trying to teach myself to paint in the style of Chinese ink and wash painting. I couldn’t stand Sweet Valley High novels, and even my doll play was odd. I had a gay Ken doll, whom I named David, and his best friend was a shaven-headed Western Barbie, whose backstory was a woeful tale of drugs and topless dancing. Continue reading “Gratitudo et Fortitudo by Natalie Weaver”