Only a week ago the streets of Paris bustled with the usual autumn tourists, and the mild weather made the occasional rain seem more like a romantic affectation than some cold and wet inconvenience. Back in Minneapolis, the streets run colder – mornings open to 38 degrees Farenheit. Yet the leaves have yet to change color on either side of the Earth. As the last light blazes its last bursts of crimson and yellow through the leaves, as shadows move independently while the waning sun thins the veil between worlds – so many, many worlds – and as I sigh and fork my car keys over to Mike for the next six weeks so I don’t cause accidents braking for things only a few others can see without drug use – I do have to pause and reflect on what this equinox and rebalancing brings, and also, what it leaves behind.
In Wiccan mythos cycles, some call this harvest. My personal interpretation has been that this is when the God of harvest, the steward of the people, dies. This is a harvest yes – and a funeral. “For the carrots, it IS the holocaust.”
Last winter was long, too long. It took more than its fair share. While I have never been prescribed antidepressants, I veered close to the edge last year from the inevitable effect of lingering grief and keeping company with the sort of people who think that their own grief is always worse, bigger, more important when it is nothing more than different. We harbor the illusion that others don’t feel grief unless they feel our grief, that others don’t understand the pain except from our singular experience. So often we fail to respect that while experience is more informative than dogma, no experience, especially not the experience of grief, constitutes all experience.
We don’t grieve properly in North American and English culture – we suppress sadness, and the “polite” behavior of my relatives at funerals in general is insincere to the point of utterly appalling. Until we start learning to manage emotions and show them, we’re only going to get more fucked up and diseased as a society. I think starting with finding a new behavior code for funerals, such as saying things like “I’m sad,” are the first of many steps to take. In Malidoma Patrice Some’ s book Of Water and Spirit, he describes the funeral of his grandfather and the grief process of his village. At a funeral, people did not make polite chit-chat about jobs and children. Funerals were not the time to “catch up” on all the illusory bullshit of “accomplishment.” People called out all their sorrows – the loss of other loved ones, the bad harvests, the relationships that never came to fore or that caused pain – all of it bubbled out as the respected member of the tribe passed on. It was not just grief for him sent into the next world. It was all grief.
This is far more honest about how grief works than what we do. We only allow ourselves to be sad about one thing, as though our emotional minds give a damn about consent and propriety. I didn’t just grieve for my father: I grieved for the abuse I endured, I grieved for the reality that there would never be an improvement in the way my family treated me, I grieved for the way people that were supposed to love me attempted to cheat me out of a good and happy life. I grieved because the loss of my father meant that I am now without family, and so I grieved for myself.
We may not be allowed to grieve as Some’s tribe did, but we do anyway because it is what we must do. The more we fight it, suppress it, drink and drug it to sleep, the longer it fights because the only solution is to allow it out and you will not be allowed to move on until you stop for it.
This is not the sort of thing that passes in six months.
But you can’t talk about these sorrows in the West. I can only say “My father died,” and be asked how long it’s been, as though grief could ever be pestered with a social timetable. I can only answer sometimes stupid, invasive, presumptuous questions about people I share genetic ties to, as though the DNA bond makes every emotional bond the same despite mountains of evidence that it’s not. Becoming a mother does not make a woman a good person, and I have born witness to this twice.
This year has been one of power and pain, and corrective action. While polite society bades me be silent about some of what I’ve gone through – some of what I’ve been subjected to – this year – I think I am well enough into my adulthood to merit some consideration for the silences I do break. I am not a woman who does things without reason. I may honor the moon, but I am not ruled by her, and my will is not capricious, manipulative and my self-indulgence is wholly learned and deliberate.
It is not all about my sadness, this year. Yes, partings have caused me grief, especially as they came with what I see as injustice, and I wonder if I was just being used for all that time. I can’t control it if someone lies about me, let alone understand why. But it’s not the first time that’s happened – it was routine in my former family, and those behaviors can haunt you in others until you realize it’s a problem and find a way to change who you choose to be around.
These are the things that are ready to be laid to rest this year. On the morning my father died, I saw the three rings on my hand – my wedding ring, my topaz/maiden ring and my almost-forgotten pentacle ring. It was a sign of passage. A similar vision visited me in Paris, and now, as I lay behind the bodies of grief now past, I ascend into another phase of my life. It is not just griefs I will bury, and at Samhain burn: it is old assumptions, any need to prove anything, and perceptions I allowed to get in my way.
So at Mabon, I will make candles out of old spell cast-offs, for specific distribution at Samhain. (This is not advised for routine spellcasting.) I already have marked a small ritual, with a supper and an acknowledgment of the dead. It will be quiet, homely, and surrounded by yellow petals as the haze of copal and cinnamon coats my home for the night. Then, once done, I may even go to a party.
This is time – my time – and I accept the gift that it is.
The grief, all of it, is coming to its end. By Samhain the pains and sorrows of this recent passage through life will be gone, and while November is the time of the Wild Hunt and a certain universal chaos, by winter Solstice I’ll be prepared to greet the sun – although if I can pull it off, I’ll greet it in Hawaii.