Death Toll: Passing Away

Death Toll: Passing Away October 27, 2016

At Samhain-tides, our lessons speak of how each moment is both a death and rebirth; all things must die to make room for the new. I began this life as my mother gave birth to me, but I truly began living – living my sacred purpose – because of her death. It was a catalyst to who I’ve become. It is Samhain once again, the Grand Funeral, and I would like to tell you the story of her passing away, but this is not really her story I’m telling, as she alone knows her side of that tale; this is my story.

Charon and Psyche, John Roddam Spencer Stanhope [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Charon and Psyche, John Roddam Spencer Stanhope [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
In previous postings, I’ve mentioned her death, and the hilarity of her Rapture Clause. She gave me some of my best comedic material! However, she’s also been a prime influence in my spiritual life. Yes, sometimes by showing me how NOT to be, but mostly by the example she made as a woman with a strength of character and devotion to her ideals.

How did I come from that Southern Baptist upbringing, to become the out-loud and proud, public witch and shopkeeper that I am today? As you can imagine, it is a long and wyrd trip down that memory lane, but it all begins with my mother’s death; when she crossed into spirit and became my strongest guide on the other side. Death takes its toll in many ways, but the ferrymen will have his due. Making that payment also brings benefits, just like a toll booth–you get to take a new road, but it’ll cost you in ways you might not expect.

We must start at the beginning, back in March of 2007. I wrote the following installments in the weeks after her death as a means of grieving, and to process the unfolding of many small miracles that would change the contentious relationship we’d had in magickal ways. This was a mere three months after my self-initiation into the Craft, and a mere month after my Imbolc dedication to work with the Element of Fire. Nothing touched by fire remains unchanged; all that does not serve your Highest Good is burned away…including your excuses.

Prelude to Dying

My mother Sondra died on March 9th, 2007 at only 59 years old. She was a very health-conscious person in excellent physical condition, which made her sudden death such a shocking tragedy for us, but also a blessing for her. She knew no sickness, and no suffering. She had her affairs in order, and was fully prepared to meet her maker. By my way of thinking, if you’ve gotta go, hers was an ideal way to check out.

Almost as if she knew her time left was short, she had a great last week of her life, deciding to stay home and enjoy some quality time with my Grandmother Frances while her husband went on a fishing trip in Florida with his own mother. My Grandmother Frances is 83 now and my mom lived two doors down from her in Paducah, Kentucky. This is where my mother grew up, and she and her mom have always been best friends, and especially close since my Grandfather Stormy died five years before. She chose not go on the fishing trip, because she wanted to make the most of the time she had left with her mom.

They spent that week like a couple of girlfriends, shopping, running errands, and going out to eat. It was my birthday week and so they had fun putting together my birthday box and mailing it to me. On Wednesday, March 7th, she called while I was on the playground with my kids, and recounted the tale of my birth–that call is a tradition between us. Thursday night they attended a funeral of one of her old friends.

Friday, the last day of her life, she pulled out the old high school yearbooks, scrapbooks and her diary from that era and spent time in her easy chair reminiscing. She called her best friend from high school to catch up, and had a nice long talk with Skip, her husband of 13 years, whom she loved dearly.

By this time, I’d received my birthday box, so I called her at 4:00 to thank her for everything. She was so proud of her gift to me. It was a beautiful wood and leather trunk. “Isn’t it just SOOO your style?” she asked. This time she’d gotten it very right. I loved the trunk and needed just that very thing as a new altar box, of course I wasn’t about to mention the witchcraft.

She joked that since it was an empty box, she just had to fill it up. Inside was a comfort shawl she’d crocheted by hand with soft, chenille yarn, coloring books for the kids, and about 5 Christian daily devotional magazines turned to March 7th with her own notes and highlighting throughout the lesson. Mom never missed an opportunity to witness for Jesus.

Sondra, Frances and my baby daughter, 2003
Sondra, Frances and my baby daughter, 2003

We had a pleasant conversation about her week: the funeral of her friend, and how much she liked that particular funeral home; the afghan she’d like to knit for me with all the fancy yarns she’d just bought on sale; and the visits she was planning for my kid’s birthdays that year. She spoke of baby sitting three siblings from the Sunday school class she taught and how she’d convinced them all to eat bok choy. She spoke to my children, Lauren and Nathan, in that last conversation. Lauren asked her to come visit for her fifth birthday and little Nate, who is two and a half, said “I love you, Grandma Sondra, Goodbye!” before handing the phone back to me.

At 7:00 that evening, while she sat in her easy chair I’m fairly certain she gave herself a manicure because her nails were perfectly polished–a point of pride for her.  She called my Grandmother Frances, and they were chatting away, when she said with urgency,  “Mom, I have a terrible pain in my temples.” Frances asked if she should come down there and Mom said “Yes, please come right away!” Frances drove her car the two driveways down to find Mom unconscious on the floor by her chair, the phone still in her hand.

Frances called 911 and had the paramedics there immediately. They got her on life support and transported them both to a hospital, and then transferred them to a second hospital for the neurologist they needed, because Frances knew about the pain in her temples the Doctors knew where to start looking.

When traumatic moments like this are unfolding, information travels like a web. We have a big family in Paducah, with many siblings, cousins and in-laws who look out for each other. My Uncle Bill and Aunt Joyce arrive, who work with the doctors to try and understand what is happening and help my Grandmother. While neurologists were running tests, they’d finally got Skip on the phone; he was on a boat in the middle of a lake when they found him. They could only tell him that it was very serious and he had to get home as fast as possible. He set out for home immediately.

Skip called me at 9:00 while driving to Orlando to catch his flight, but all he could relay was the sense of emergency and that she was still unconscious. All I could say was that I had just talked to her a few hours before as if this was some proof that everything was going to be okay. I called my Aunt Joyce to find her at the hospital. My dear Aunt Joyce…to this day I can still hear her sweet voice as she explained; there was an aneurysm, a weakened blood vessel in her brain; it ruptured…there was a cerebral hemorrhage.

There was this weighted pause, where I expected her to go on, but we just hung there in awkward silence. I didn’t understand. “What is next? Where do we go from here?” I asked, hopefully.

She replies so gently, so simply, “Honey, she’s brain dead. This is it.”


In the days following, my mother’s spirit would visit and guide me, give me clarity and strength, but I will tell you about that next time. For now, as a part of your Samhain preparations, do me a favor and go call your mom and tell her you love her…even if she drives you crazy.

Until next we meet, Samhain Blessings,
~Heron

The continuing story: Death Toll: Coming to Terms

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