Samhain

Samhain seems to have started early this year. The veil between the living and the dead has worn thin. It looks frayed around the edges, with maybe even a narrow hole here and there, close to the middle of everything.

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Mom died 16 years ago this week and usually I’m a bit depressed as sun’s angle sharpens … but not this year. The weather is so wrong – so much warmer than usual, where I live, and less rainy – that my customary grief anniversary has been nearly absent. Instead I feel a generalized sense of loss – friends who have moved away, birdsong that I don’t hear from the 9th floor, favorite artists and performers who have died or left the stage, skills and abilities I used to take for granted.

The depredations of aging are almost modular. First I gave away my ice skates, and this year might be the last I go skiing, we’ll see. But also: simple topology flummoxes me these days. When I turn this shirt right side out, will it be facing me, or will the back be toward me? I used to know without thinking about it, but now I can’t figure it out even by careful thinking. Now and then I get lost going somewhere familiar, and it definitely takes me more repeated trips to learn a new route than it used to.

Losses, things dying, things ending that I will never get back.

I’ve been visiting family in Vermont this week, and it’s been good. But I also found myself thinking I probably won’t get to Vermont very many more times. I remember when I used to drive up five or six times a year … and then for awhile I took the train about that often. But this trip was exhausting. It’s the same trip, maybe even a little faster these days … but I’m more tired now, and schlepping baggage is less easy.

Samhain. In the natural world, it’s the third harvest – pumpkins and root vegetables, time to put away the tools of farming, bring the animals closer to the barn – but it’s also watching the plant kingdom shed its leaves and hunker down for winter. The weather is too warm, yes, and the leaves not their usual brilliant colors, but the leaves are still falling everywhere. Crocuses may be coming up, in some gardens, but elsewhere the flowers are planning for an early frost.

Loss and change

Much to my surprise, this Samhain I’m leaving the Fire covens I’ve been in since 2010, and moving to an Earth coven in the same tradition. I’m grieving that loss, too, even though it was my choice, or at least, I was the one who acknowledged what the Elementals and the coven Spirits have been trying to tell me for months. Some of the humans I’ve told about it say they have always seen me as an ‘Earth’ person. I wonder what took me so long?

I haven’t left yet, quite, but I feel the same sense of loss and loneliness as if it was already done. Or, as we used to say to a traveling family member, “I miss you already, and you aren’t even gone.”

In my travels, whether for family or professional development, I’m starting to notice that I might not pass this way again. That first happened to me just last year, a conference in a city I had visited only once, decades before. Milwaukee is a charming place, just the right size really, and beautiful except for its harsh winters. Visiting on a lovely June weekend, I realized I might actually never be back.

But a few months later, that awareness shows up everywhere. Is this the last time I’ll visit the Pacific Ocean? Probably not – I have a son and a brother who live near those shores – but surely there won’t be ten more visits. If I continue the trend of visiting every 3-5 years, there might not be even 2 more.

Talking Loss With Others

Talking with agemate friends, with siblings and cousins, I see what we share, and what specific deficits might be less usual, or arriving to different ones of us in a different order.

It’s interesting, enlightening, comforting, informative, and devastating, by turns, to hear a friend a decade younger talk about how he never thought he would retire because he loves his work … but he’s noticing the mistakes he makes and wondering when it will be time to quit – and if he can’t work any more, what will he do with his time?

We swap stories of the things we can no longer do, that we used to be unconsciously competent or even expert at. He gets lost on roads he’s been driving for decades. I have trouble learning the way to new places. He forgets people’s names even when he’s just asked them. I forget people’s faces, even the ones I’ve known for years. He can’t snap his fingers any more. I’m starting to have trouble with parallel parking – which would be less embarrassing except that I used to teach it.

Perspectives on Personal Loss

This month I’ve mixed up my calendar at least three times (do I even remember all of them?) – showing up on the wrong day for an exercise class, phoning a friend to say I was going to be late for lunch at 11:00 and discovering our date was actually for 1:00, inviting someone out for dinner and discovering I already had a dinner date with someone else. And I’m starting to repeat my stories, telling the same thing to half a dozen people in just a few days, or (most embarrassing) telling the same story to the same person twice in the same week.

It’s becoming more and more clear that most of what I say is for me, myself, to hear – even if I think I’m giving advice you asked for, it’s probably advice I need for myself. Even when I think I’m being clever … it’s probably not your laugh I’m most waiting for.

Probably this post is like that, too.

The Witch sits cross-legged, watching the fire and waiting for it to burn down to ash. Will she read the ashes like tea leaves? Is she waiting for someone to step in from the shadows?

Just keep listening,” she says, stroking my hair. “Water your grief with your tears, and wait for the fire to slow and shrink. Notice that the earth is all around you, and beneath you, inviting you in.”

And so it is.

Blessed Samhain to all.

–Maggie Beaumont

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