My morning had been productive when grief slammed its inexorable way into my life. I’d honored my deities. Cleaned the kitchen. Watered my garden. Straightened the living room. All of this before 9 AM. In fact, I’d just made myself a cup of tea in preparation to do some writing when I received the call from my sister. Our brother was dead.
The First Shockwave Brings Numbness
I’m the youngest of four children in my family. And I do mean youngest. My siblings are 12, 9, and 7 years my senior. My sister is in the middle of that trio. Seeing her name light up my cell phone screen, I knew she reached out to me because of death. She would have no other reason to call me so early. However, I made a wrong assumption upon answering so her words shocked me to the core. Not the one I thought, the name I had been prepared to hear. But rather, him.
The one who called me “Little Sis.” The man who as a surly teenager brought me popsicles and taught me all the best music. Seriously. The Beatles. Fleetwood Mac. Bread. Earth, Wind, and Fire. Chicago. All of them I love because I first heard them sitting with him as a small child. So, how was it possible for my sister to be calling about him? How was it possible I had to go to our elderly mother to say that her firstborn son had passed through the veil before her? But I had to. Got in the car, drove to where she lives, and delivered the news.
And then I was left to deal with the numbing shock of it all. My brother lived in another state. My sister will deal with all the legalities, coordinate with his friends in donating a life’s worth of accumulation. Bring home keepsakes. My part is complete. Our family will not come together. Because in this time of COVID-19 there is unlikely to be a funeral. His ashes will be sent to our mother for future interment. As is true for so many, our grief remains a solitary affair.
The Second Shockwave Brings Sadness
All of this happened four days ago. The sadness is still palpable which is why I’m writing about it. It’s not like I’ve never lost a family member or friend to death. I’ve understood death since childhood when first a beloved grandmother and then a school friend took that journey. My elderly father joined the ancestors a few years ago. I’ve walked this path before. But this loss is different.
Perhaps it is because (as I told Ode) my oldest brother existed in a different place for me. We were not close, as I have been with my other siblings. We did not spend a lot of time together over the years. My brother became an adult and started living on his own by the time I was six years old. As a result, he was mythic in my eyes growing up. His annual visits with the family for Christmas made extra special because of his absence during the rest of the year. And for him, I was always “baby sister.” Even when I became an adult with children of my own our relationship reflected that difference in our ages.
But now there is the suddenness of his passing. There had been no protracted illness. Our mother had recently spent time with him. He had spent two days with our sister telling her about future plans. My brother was happy, content with his life. He was here one day, gone the next, leaving a massive hole in his wake. My mother expressed my brother’s death this way when I told her the news. She said, “Well, I guess he’s walking into that dim mystery where your father is now.”
The Third Shockwave Brings Grief
Sadness finds me hovering between depression and acceptance. So I’m working through strategies for dealing with grief. The process is different for everyone. A Christian, such as my siblings and mother, will find comfort in their prayers, scripture, church meetings, and their god.
As a Green Earth Witch, I find comfort in nature. Tending my garden and herbs, meditating in my back yard. Sitting under the shade of a tree, feeling the breeze on my skin, digging my toes into the grass. Grounding myself in the deep energetic loam of the Earth Deity.
I find strength through a simple devotion to Hekate, a goddess of the underworld, and through lighting candles and incense to Frigga, Brighid, and Cernunnos. Rituals that are already part of my morning but take on greater significance in a time of loss.
And as a way to honor my brother, I’ve added his picture to our ancestor altar. I’ve offered him a beer, incense, and candles, welcoming him. Doing this, in particular, has allowed me to accept this new reality a bit more every day.
Grief Hits Us All In Differently
We all process grief as individuals. Some may find it delayed because of details associated with death — paperwork, contacting people, honoring a person’s wishes for their remains, etc. Others will avoid emotions by focusing on family, work, etc. Those who do not have a framework of belief (or non-belief) may struggle with “what happens” when someone crosses from life to death. Grief has a way of drawing some into shadow work.
In my experience, there is no time limit on experiencing the realities of death or the sadness it brings. So many times, people want us to “get over” a loss without offering adequate time to wrap our head around the situation. And yes, there are times people get stuck in depression, anger, or another stage of grief that requires extra assistance to manage but time limits on sadness or loss are pointless. Artificial. And in the end, accomplish little to help the one who grieves.
Perhaps it is not the souls of the dead who move into “the dim mystery” but we who are left behind. The realm of the unknown. Because while countless religions, stories, myths, and songs have all tried to tell us what it means when we leave this mortal coil, attempt to describe what one may see or experience once we cross the veil (or assume there is nothing) the reality is we will not know until we experience the moment of death ourselves. And for a time, grief allows us to acknowledge that truth.
On June 8, 2020, Ode and I recorded an episode of 3 Pagans and a Cat discussing modern Western death culture, the discomfort people experience about death, funerary rituals, reincarnation, and what qualifies as a rebirth.