Death and My Grandmother

The past year has been one of major changes, both in my personal life and in the wider world. On a personal level, the past twelve months have seen the death of my grandmother, me leaving that (painful, abusive) living situation to live with two of my partners in Florida, the surgical removal of my uterus, and going off my meds due to financial difficulties. It hasn’t been an environment conducive to blogging, though hopefully that will change now that I’m settled.

I’ve been thinking a lot about death, for obvious reasons. Hela didn’t spare me many of the gory details of my grandmother’s decline and eventual death. There are many kinds of death, went the lesson, and the death of the body is a kindness compared to the death of the mind. And I had to witness the worst of it firsthand, including when she refused all food and water for days on end, and would only talk about how she had to go back to Cuba immediately, when she wasn’t moaning incoherently. It was a hard, hard thing to watch, and I think all of us looking after her were a little relieved when she finally passed. The nightmare was finally over for all of us, not least of all my grandmother herself.

I was still recovering from surgery at the time and my mother woke me from a sound sleep to tell me she’d died, and I literally could not wake up all the way — instead, I found myself sucked into a vivid dream in which she was on her feet again, wandering around the house and looking confused. My first thought was that I had to get her to the bathroom, because that was the only reason she was ever on her feet in her final days. But when she asked me what was wrong, what came out of my mouth was, “You’re dead! Look, your body’s right there!” and I pointed to the bed where her now-empty body lay and started sobbing hysterically. She reached out and pulled me into her arms, and told me everything was all right, and there was noting I needed to worry about. When I woke up, her body was already gone, and I felt strangely calm.

The calm wasn’t constant, though. There were days where I felt the need to curl up on her bed, right where she’d died, and cry. I felt closer to her there, and it seemed like it was the only place I could cry. The rest of the time was spent in the strange detachment of grief, where nothing seemed quite real until suddenly the fact of her death would stab though my consciousness and leave me unable to process anything but that single fact: My grandma is dead.

She was frequently spiteful, passive-aggressive, and outright emotionally abusive. She set the pattern for every abusive relationship I’ve been in since, and there have been several, but she was my grandmother and I love her still. And it’s been a struggle, reconciling the terrible things she did with the good. She felt love for me. I have no doubt of that. But she was very bad at showing that love in a way that were good for her children and grandchild. Her “I love you, therefore ____” script was broken, and so while she felt love, she was very bad at consistently being loving.

Once a year has passed since her death, I may include her as part of my ancestor practice, and may even perform some elevations for her that she may gain the understanding in death that she lacked in life. Right now, though, I’m giving her time to get settled, wherever she is. I hope for her Heaven, but should she be in Purgatory, I’ll offer up prayers to her god and to the Virgin Mary that she move on to something better, and reunite with my grandfather, who looked after her in death just as he did in life.

I love my grandmother, and in death, as in life, I want her to understand how she was hurting the people she cared for and not do it anymore. That may never happen, or it may be easier now that she’s no longer at the mercy of a physical body and its brain chemistry. I hope it is. I hope that, if she decides to reincarnate, she takes her lessons from this life and does better next time. I’m still angry, but the anger doesn’t change the rest of my feelings for her. It’s another thread in the tapestry, that’s all.

If there’s anything I’ve taken away from this, it’s that death can be ugly and complicated, and so is coping with the aftermath. We’re not obligated to immediately forgive someone for the things they did in life, but we owe it to ourselves and to them to acknowledge that it is complicated. My ancestral line has had its share of problems, not even touching on the centuries of colonialism, but in the end, we all have to come to our own peace with our dead. Sometimes that means cutting them out entirely, and other times it means taking some time to work things out, knowing that it may take years, if it happens at all.

For me, for her, it’s worth taking the time. Right now, my job is to come to some kind of peace within myself where she’s concerned, and her job is to settle in and decide how much attention she wants to devote to her former life. In nine months’ time, when I move the dried remains of the rose I kept from her funeral to my ancestor altar, and put her picture up, we’ll see where we stand. Despite all the pain between us, I’m looking forward to it.

The Pagan Blog: An Introduction

So here we go: official blog-opening time, where I introduce myself.

I consider myself a baby spirit-worker, in that I have very little formal training, but I’ve been Doing Stuff at the behest of various Powers since I was twelve… which is all well and good, except ‘stuff I’ve been doing since I was twelve’ isn’t actually a formal discipline, and leaves me with big damn holes in my education. I’m trying to fix that.

I was raised Catholic at my grandmother’s insistence (an amazing, if sometimes infuriating, woman — today is her eighty-eighth birthday, in fact), but my mother and both of my stepfathers were various flavors of Neopagan. This made for a somewhat confusing religious upbringing, and led to my calling to religious service taking several different forms.

After exploring Wicca in my teenage years, I spent the better part of a decade as an eclectic Neopagan in service to an Egyptian goddess. I looked into Gnosticism, which was wonderful for reconciling my feelings of hurt and betrayal toward the Old Testament god with the profound spiritual experiences I’d had when attending Mass as a young child, but for the most part, I stuck firmly to my eclectic Paganism.

I made a lot of stupid mistakes, and found myself stuck in a cycle of focusing so intently on spiritual matters that my mundane life went straight to hell, and then burning out and being spiritually dead for a while, until something would yank me back into the spiritual side of things and the cycle repeated itself. That’s something I’m still struggling with; I tend to be a creature of extremes, and finding a balanced middle ground is hard for me… but it’s something I have to learn to do, because if I’ve learned anything in all these years, it’s that the spirits don’t just go away when you’re tired of them.

A few years ago, after a series of rather profoundly life-altering experiences spanning a two-year period, my Lady released me from Her service, and pretty much told me point blank that where I needed to go wasn’t somewhere She could take me.

I’d been reading about Northern Tradition Paganism for a while, and lots of things there called to me in a way that Asatru never had. I had, in fact, written off all things Norse as Not For Me, until Loki showed up and started dropping hints the size of anvils in my lap. And the more I read about spirit-work, the more I realized I’d been spending years doing what was basically ‘spirit-work lite’… and what’s more, when I was doing it, it felt right. It felt like I was doing my job. I was lacking context, structure, and a full set of tools to work with, but the job description was a familiar one.

So this is where I am now: putting together a personal practice in the Northern Tradition, studying the runes and the lore, adding my own UPG to it — kind of a necessity, since it’s the Jotnar that snatched me up, rather than the Aesir or Vanir. That said, I’m still studying what books I can get my hands on that are Asatru-specific: even if parts of it don’t apply, if I’m going to be part of a reconstructionist-derived practice, I need to be intimately familiar with just what it’s derived from.

Hi. I’m Jaqui. I’m twenty-eight years old, and I’m a baby spirit worker. We’ve all gotta start somewhere.