A Heathen Father’s Day

A Heathen Father’s Day June 16, 2015

cemetaryAbout this time last month, I wrote an article about how I think about and celebrate Mother’s Day as a Heathen.  That was a pretty easy post – the Disir, the Matrones, whatever you want to call them, the honor of a person’s woman ancestors is well-attested throughout Germanic tribes and times.  And to be honest, I was lucky enough to be born into a bit of a matriarchal family.  The women keep the history, the memories, and our family story is told and traced through them.

This post will be a bit more difficult.  Last summer, on the day before Father’s Day, my grandpa passed away.  He was the first of my grandparents to pass, the first really impactful death I experienced.  The person who was primarily caring for him didn’t tell anyone how sick he had gotten – I had just heard and was arranging a way to visit him for Father’s Day when I got the call.  I was kind of a mess.

My usual go-to, hiding from everything, wasn’t really an option – I had to help lead a Midsummer ritual for my Grove the next week.  I bought a bottle of Crown Royale and poured some out for him when we honored our ancestors.  I cried a lot.

There were some family squabbles, and his cremation and the scattering of his ashes were delayed for a few weeks while everyone decided what would be done.  Those weeks were awful, but they gave me time to process things a little better.  I wanted to turn to my religion to help, to smooth this transition, but honestly I had no idea where to begin.

I honored my ancestors, I gave them offerings, but I wasn’t close with them.  I didn’t sit and feel their presence, laugh at their joys and weep at their sorrows as I do with the spirits of the land.  But I was close with my grandpa, this amazing man who truly loved life and lived it exactly as he wanted to.  I wanted to reach out to him, to tell him I missed him and I loved him and I was so sorry I hadn’t been there when it was most important for me to be.  But I didn’t know how.

The old Norse had a custom of seeking advice and help from one’s ancestors by going and sitting out on their burial mounds.  My kids and I love leaving offerings for our ancestors at cemeteries; many of the ones my family is buried in are beautiful, but I had never  intentional quieting of myself that I might hear the voices of the dead.

It was finally decided that my grandpa’s ashes would be scattered on the graves of his parents, buried next to each other in a small rural cemetery.  A small group of family came and bid him goodbye – his side of the family are some of my favorite people in the world, full of life and vitality and a deep joy, though many of their lives are difficult.  Eventually everyone dispersed, most of them to the bar for the time-honored custom of drinking and remembering.  I returned later that afternoon, my heart so heavy it felt as if I was having to drag my feet to keep them moving.

I laid my face in the grass, before the headstones of my great-grandparents, before the ashes of my dear grandpa.  I cried and cried, and I told him everything I’d wanted to say – all the regret, all the pain, all the sadness I was feeling.  And then I waited, quieting my voice and opening myself up to hear whatever was to be said.

I laid there for a long, long time, and I didn’t hear anything really.  But I knew he was there.  The grass began to smell of cigarettes and beagles, and I was so flooded with memories of him – of growing up, of birthdays and holidays, the look in his eyes when he first held my children.  It was only the beginning of a long healing process, one that is still going on.  But every morning when I pour out a bit of tea for my ancestors, I touch his picture and remember.  I feel him with me.  And every once in awhile, I’ll sneak him a bit of whiskey – I’ll be getting his favorite when I visit this Father’s Day.

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