Do you know how you’re going to handle your own death? Have you thought about it? Does thinking about death frighten you? Maybe it’s time we really talked about it more publicly.
He comes to me
lays His hands on my head
“I can’t promise you
that things will get better.
I can’t tell you that there won’t
be more violence
in My name.
I can tell you that
you will have life
before you cross over.
You need not stay at
in order to understand
Remember to love
in this life, and remember Me
as I should be.”
There’s been a lot of discussion about grief since the election: what is “proper” grief, when to get over grief, and people denying the grief of others. Two months ago, this post would have probably just been a rant about not telling people how to grieve, but then my friend Bubby Jerimyah D’Luv died suddenly.
And the grief over the election fell into grief over Jerimyah. I lit my candle for him, and wore my rainbow socks to his memorial. I was his friend, but I didn’t get to spend as much time as I would have liked with him. But I have my memories of the times we did spend together. Going to Hobbee’s. Doing the body acceptance workshop. The look of happiness on his face when I went to visit him in the hospital and we talked about going swimming together sometime.
“What is remembered lives,” I said at the memorial.
Then, a couple of weeks ago, one of the Mothers of Refuge, Emerald O’Leary, passed. So, grief again. She was a sassy Irish lady, who was an amazing artist. One year at Easter she, with the other artists at Refuge, made Easter hats. She came up to me right before service and handed me this glorious hat saying I should wear it for service. So I did (the picture is on my Facebook page, so there’s proof!). There was a lot I didn’t know about her, but what I do know, I cherish.
I lit my candles for her, too, and remembered that she, too, will live because we remember her.
And then, this week, my friend Cynan passed away. He was always a gentleman and a big bear of a man. He was mostly a friend, but we also some adult fun with each other a bit in the first few years I was in the Bay Area. I remember hanging out with him and his wife in their apartment a long time ago, with Cynan in his big chair and Kim in hers. I don’t even remember why I had gone over that day, but it sticks in my memory. I remember him singing in the hallways at Pantheacon, and smiling as I heard his voice down the hall. He also gave amazing hugs, and you knew you were hugged. We hadn’t talked as much in the last few years, except at cons and parties if he was there, but he was always present when he was in the room, which I can’t really explain much better than that.
I’ve been lighting candles for him, too.
Which also brings me to the fact that we’re moving to Chicago at the end of February. Today I realized, that there’s grief there, too. We’ll be leaving friends and the coven to start something new in a new place. It’s exciting in the fact that things will be new (and I’m looking forward to seasons and summer thunderstorms again), but it’s also sad to be leaving what we have here.
And when we’re in Chicago, I know I’ll be lighting my candles for that grief when I get my altar set up.
I’ve studied a lot about grief, since working with those who are dying is part of my vocation. In fact, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ work is something that I’ve studied in depth. But I think that there’s a lot of people who really misunderstood her work on the stages of grief, and if you read her books, you’ll see that she explicitly states many times that the stages of grief are not a straight line. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance are non-linear. Sometimes a person may not even go through one of the stages, or experience more than one at a time. It’s a huge misunderstanding to expect someone to just go through the stages and be done with their grieving in a set period of time.
What Kübler-Ross tries to explain in her work, and what I’ve experienced myself in working with those who are grieving the loss of a loved one and in my own grief, is that you need to respect the grieving process. It doesn’t matter what the person is grieving over, either. Whether it’s a loved one, a pet, the election, a celebrity, or even a sportsball loss. No matter the source, the grief is real.
We’ve been taught, in American society at least, that our grief should be something that we hide, or if we don’t “get over it” quickly we’re somehow mentally ill, or being stupid. It’s worse if someone is grieving over a pet, or a celebrity, or something others deem not worthy of any extended period of grief.
I think that what we’ve been taught is wrong.
I think that not showing our grief, wailing, crying, singing laments, or being denied the ability to publicly express our grief is wrong.
So I give all of you who are grieving, no matter what you are grieving, the permission to cry out loud, to shout, to rage, to sing, to wail, to write, to do anything you need to express that grief. I give you permission to grieve whether someone else thinks it silly or not. I give you permission to not talk about your grief, to hermit, to be alone in your grief. I give you permission to grieve for as long as you need to. I give you permission to grieve publicly, in community, and if I am there to witness your grief, I will make sure you are allowed that space without someone bothering you or telling you that your grief is invalid.
And I will give myself this same permission, because I am grieving, too.
“You humans are very strange creatures,” She said as She sat down.
I took a sip of my cocoa. “I can’t argue with You about that. We tend to do a lot of weird stuff to each other and to our planet. We are stubborn, willful, quick to anger, but then we can be full of compassion, joy, and happiness.”
“Well, yes, that’s very true.” She paused. “But your species doesn’t learn very well from it’s past, does it?”
“You all come through My realm, one way or another, and yet you never seem to listen to the Ancestors that came before you. They leave you books and pictures and art and music, and still there are those who willfully ignore or deny the atrocities done. They deny the signs of those who would only seek power for their own ends and feed on the hatred of others. They would willingly ignore the human race’s ability to change and adapt based on perceived notions of a lack of perfection in word and deed.”
I grimaced behind another sip of cocoa. I was rather glad that this conversation was in my head rather than physically real. Then again, I suppose if Ereshkigal became visible in the coffee shop, it would make things rather interesting.
She raised Her eyebrow at me.
I quickly answered:
“Some believe that it is only through perfection that we can change society. Others believe that we can only get to You and the other Gods through perfection. They believe that if we make mistakes somehow we’re not good enough. And, I think, sometimes some of us will shame and degrade others for mistakes long after the mistake was made and learned from.”
“What do you believe?”
“Well, I believe…I….” I stumbled.
“Do you not have an opinion?”
“I do…it’s just that…well…it’s not very popular…”
She raised her eyebrow at me again. “Priest.” She reminded me.
I took a deep breath. Right.
“I believe that demanding perfection from each other actually does more harm than good. If we don’t take the time to explain to someone who makes a mistake out of ignorance what they’ve done wrong, there’s no room for change. If we just tell someone they’re a horrible person and that they should just sit down and shut up, then all that does is build resentment.”
“And what of those who do it out of malice?”
“Well,” I said, “sit down and shut up can be a bit more effective then. I think there are some people I won’t be able to change.”
She laughed. “No, you can’t change everyone. You can’t change anyone unless they see the need to change.”
“But what about people’s anger?” I said, frustrated. “How can I acknowledge someone’s very real feelings around their oppression, but call them out on their lack of compassion towards those who want to learn and grow? I mean, I get that people get sick of educating people. I get tired of it, too. Sometimes it’s just easier to back away and just leave it alone!”
The Queen of the Underworld looked at me for a moment with sad eyes, then stood up to walk around the room. She stood behind the Latinx couple with a baby.
“Their daughter will get bullied and they will not be able to find an apartment because of their skin color and speech.”
She moved to stand next to the white man at his computer. “He doesn’t know his privilege, but he makes donations to charities every year because he can take it off his taxes.”
She moves to the white man and Asian looking man talking. “They are friends and meet here often. They both have conflicts of faith.”
Then she stood next to a teenage girl. “She knows that the world is wrong right now, and yet she will be a beacon of hope and change as she gets older.”
She wanders around standing near people and showing me their pasts and futures. Their humanity, their oppressions, their privileges, their struggles.
“They will all learn what they need to learn in this life. You are one teacher in a sea of teachers that they will come across. You don’t necessarily need to acknowledge their oppressions, but you need to absolutely acknowledge their humanity.”
“Remember what the Morrigan told you: you cannot save them all. And sometimes Death, in Spirit or in Fact, is a mercy, not a punishment.”
I nodded again. She sat down again.
I tried to think of something else to say, but my words were failing me.
She touched my face. “Don’t worry, my love, when they come to me, they will finally learn. It is not your place to demand perfection, but is is your place to try and emulate that which you hold dear. You will fail sometimes, but if you can tell me that you did the best you could when you arrive at My Gates, then I would be satisfied.”
“Yes,” She said as She got up to walk away, “You humans are very odd creatures.”
I was reading an anthology about people’s experiences with Ereshkigal the other day, and I realized that I must be kind of weird when it comes to the “dark” Goddesses. Ereshkigal is new as a patron, but I’ve worked with Her before. I’ve also worked with Hecate, the Morrigan, Cerridwen, Lilith, Kali, and several other of this class of deity, and while I have a healthy respect for Them and what They can do, I don’t fear them. Most of the anthology had people talking about how “scary” Ereshkigal is. Other adjectives were terrifying, hard, cold, angry, etc.
It may be weird, but when I work with Them, Their realms feel comfortable to me. Binah on the tree of life feels more like a sanctuary when we do work there than an echoing emptiness. Sure, Ereshkigal may be cold and stern, and even angry at times, but Her cuttings are purposeful. She can be comforting, but doesn’t coddle you when you’re not doing what you should be doing. Same thing with Hecate. She’ll be honest with you while you’re standing at the crossroads, making sure you know the gains and consequences of each road, but She’ll gladly dance with you and cheer you on once the decision is made. As hard as the Morrigan is, she also shows the ultimate compassion and mourns the waste that war can bring.
My wife says that it’s just who I am and how my particular calling manifests (I do work with the dying). I know that there are many folks who don’t work with these deities, and sometimes what you don’t know about can be scary. For me, these deities aren’t scary, they’re beautiful.
I will say, though, my heavy metal playlist is getting a good workout these days while I’m getting to know Ereshikigal…