It’s been just over a week since my Grandmom passed away, and I’ve spent much of that time processing. But I expect it’s going to be quite a while before I write a piece for her like I did for my Grandfather. Instead, my mind has been working on weaving connections in my own life, brought on by her passing.
She lived to 97, and was a profound presence throughout my entire life, and especially my childhood. The memories and nostalgia are wrapped around food (fried dough, Italian wedding soup with tiny meatballs, proper gravy, pitzels, a house filled with the smell of roasted peppers), sewing, playing Scrabble, and her well of formidable inner strength.
I saw her last a little over a month ago, when I visited my family on the East Coast in early July. In retrospect, I’m a little in awe of the respect I had for my own sense of urgency about the trip. The original plan to visit family was between two events that got canceled and postponed. I suddenly had the free time, but not really the means to make it happen, so I figured logically, I’d just move the trip to the Fall to coincide travel with the next event. Yet I was overcome with a seemingly sudden and displaced urge that I needed to make the trip happen. Talking with my partner and my parents, we managed to find a solution to make it possible.
As it turned out, if I had ignored that feeling and waited, I wouldn’t have seen her in time. Despite the dementia, there were glimmers of recognition when she looked into my eyes, followed by her beautiful smile, and I shared with her a message from my Grandfather. As I left to head home, I knew in my heart that it was the last time I would see her alive.
In order to remember and mourn Grandmom, I found I had to look back on my own life. To make a shrine for her, I dug through my drawer of photographs. Even though I’ve been through that packed drawer regularly, I found myself slowing down not only for the family photos, but also as I encountered a wealth of photos from the Cauldron of Annwyn Pagan Society events and of Modern Tradition gatherings: the first Rhode Island Pagan Pride Day, rituals held in art studios, RISD’s Tap Room, Beltane on the Bay, lighted labyrinths, altars and feasts, maypoles and magick. Community. Shared Experiences. Rituals on a very regular basis.
I also spent most of last week in my studio making art, when I wasn’t battling mysterious nausea and fatigue – both of which were strongest on the day she died (Monday) and the day of the funeral (Thursday). One of my tendencies is to pick up certain physical experiences (usually a brief and very temporary thing that happens when doing readings for people), and I think I was feeling much of what the rest of my family was feeling 3000 miles away. Despite those physical issues (and a strong desire not to leave the house or interact with people), I made some pretty profound paintings, tapping into something old and familiar.What was it? There was a point in college where my art was flowing as I explored visually the mysteries I was experiencing in ritual. It was probably the most free, connected, and empowered that I had ever been, despite the difficulties present in my personal life. I was engaged as a priestess and honing my craft as an artist.
Coming up on the 5 year anniversary of my life changing, I wondered about then and now. The last few years have been about finding different kinds of power, freeing my heart, understanding love, trusting myself, and bringing back the art. That’s nothing new.
BUT, I had also recently brought something else back that I hadn’t had in my life for at least a decade: group ritual. I’m the kind of person who has been generally very wary of or perhaps reluctant to participating in other folks’ rituals. Yet at Many Gods West, I attended two rituals and co-lead a third. The priestess came fully back online and everything’s a shade different. I became keenly aware of community and ritual in a new way, even though it was familiar territory. Like a snake that has shed its skin, or the ouroboros coming back to the point in which it both begins and ends.
But Grandmom didn’t like snakes (or any other sort of reptile, though she was patient of my turtle/tortoise adoration phase). So my apologies to Grandmom for the snek mention, and let’s think about it in sewing terms, which she would like better. It’s like hemming a long skirt, that maybe was too long for you in the first place, but you wore tall boots to try and make it work because you really liked it. Still, the hem would drag, get caught on things, come undone and get dirty. So you stop wearing the skirt…but then one day, you pull it out and realized how much you loved that skirt. And with a little tender care and attention to detail, mending or trimming out the damaged parts, and adjusting it so it fits better, the skirt is back in your wardrobe.
We never really quite repeat the same cycle – as the world, ourselves, and everyone around us is also ever-changing, but we do expand upon it. We can pick up threads and repeat patterns, or we can choose to make new ones. In mourning Grandmom, I have uncovered another piece of myself – it’s like she gave me one more gift. And it fits and feels better than ever.