Embracing Death

by Ashara Mayim

“I think I’d like to buy a house.”

It was a strange thing to hear coming out of my mother’s mouth, but there it was, her voice crackling over the air waves. I paced back and forth in the dog park, wrapping Ace’s red leash around my hand and bundling my jacket around me, folding one zippered edge over the other.

“Mom, why? You’ve rented your whole life. You love renting.”

I could almost hear her shrugging on the other end of the line. Were I there with her, face-to-face, she’d look at me in that melancholy way she often did, as though I were a little girl again and she had to simplify something very complicated in order to explain it to me.

“I just want something to leave to you and your brother. You know, when I’m gone.”

Silence hung between us, save for the static on the phone line. She got like this sometimes. Talking about her own death. Explaining to me how sick she was. She would break to me the news that she had been diagnosed with this-or-that, that she’d had a mini-stroke, that she had lupus, that she was never going to walk again. I’d heard it all. I dismissed it out of hand, reaching out to release the latch on the gate and walk back to my tiny apartment.

“Mom, you’re not even 57 years old. You’re so young. You have SO much time left.”

As I tended to Hecate’s altar that evening, the Goddess told me my mother was about to die.  I didn’t believe it until I got the phone call that I needed to come to the hospital because she was sick. I hung up the phone at 10:30 on Thursday night. By 7:30 on Friday evening, she had crossed the veil.

I saw her walk past me in the hospital, out of the corner of my vision. For months afterwards I heard her calling my name in the middle of the night. To this day, I smell smoke from the cigarettes I leave on her altar.

One of the greatest mysteries in Witchcraft is that of life, death, and rebirth. As witches, I find we often say that we honor these mysteries, celebrate the seasons, strive to understand the cycles of life. But do we really?

We stand in circle and revere the coming of spring, worship the Sun in His full glory at Litha, honor the processes of death as the harvests approach each year. We honor the sacrificed god in the face of Osiris, Lugh, and even Jesus. In the fall we drink apple cider, carve pumpkins, relish the crunch of leaves beneath our feet (unless we life in the South! Ha!), and celebrate the turning of the wheel. We love to witness the slowing of the earth to Her sacred sleep. Fall is the season of the Witch, after all! It all seems so poetic, doesn’t it? The circle of life moves us all! It’s necessary and beautiful.

Until we experience it firsthand.

There’s nothing quite like grief, is there? The feeling of emptiness and loss hits you cold and out of nowhere, sometimes stealing the very oxygen from your lungs and leaving you grasping for any small memory of what you took for granted only moments before. It’s all-consuming, like a white noise surrounding you where you expected there to be only silence. It’s just as meaningless but a hundred times more unbearable.

How easy it would be to say, “well, if you were in better balance with the cycles and seasons of life, you’d be able to handle this so much easier!” But the truth is, it’s never easy. Time does not, in fact, heal all wounds and the hole in your heart left there by the loss of the one you love will always be there. I am a witch of the Underworld. I’ve lost many people I love. I’ve helped many others through their grief. One thing I have never heard any witch say when stuck in the horrible abyss of ultimate sadness is “Isn’t this so beautiful? I love the cycles of life!”

I didn’t ask to become Hecate’s child. I didn’t want to be an Underworld witch. I wanted to work with Kwan Yin! But it was Hecate who called to me. I remember the first time I heard her whisper to me that someone would die. I was visiting my great-grandmother in the nursing home and it came to me as a tingle in the back of my neck, and in a vision of her aura’s light weakening, of the veils being lifted up from around her body. I knew, instinctively, it was the last time I would see her alive.

The next was my grandfather. He was doing fine and expected to be released from the hospital, but She whispered to me that morning. “Take my torch from the altar. Carry it with you. You’ll need it tonight.” I just… KNEW. I called the hospital and the nurses and my family kept assuring me with annoyance that he was fine and stable, that I should stay home. I knew better. I waited for the call, which came at about 5:30, that I needed to come be with him. I held is hand with Hecate’s torch placed between our palms, went into meditation while my family stood around him singing his favorite hymn, and ushered his spirit across the veil by the light of Her sacred flame.

After that was my mother, whose form I saw out of the corner of my eye as she left this world. A friend from St. Louis died in a car accident. I knew about his death the day before. Next was a friend from a spiritual circle I attend in Jackson every now and again. She passed from cancer. The list goes on and on… and I understand now that this is something that I am meant to understand and use. I hesitate to call it a gift, although it certainly has useful lessons, however harsh they may be.

I’ve learned that death isn’t the end and that birth isn’t necessarily the beginning.

“Dead” does not mean “gone” and the only way out of grief is through it. I’ve been taught to embrace pain and to relish the dark as we relish the light. I’ve come to understand that sometimes, death isn’t physical. Death is the irrevocable changes that take our lives and turn them upside-down. Without death, there is no life. These are not lessons I wanted to learn, but they are lessons I was thankful for.

Have you opened your mind and heart to the cycles of life, death, and rebirth—not only in idea or as reflected in nature, but in terms of your own life and how it has made an impact on you? What personal cycles of life and death have you experienced? How have you been reborn?

This Samhain, embrace the Dark. Embrace Death. Blessed be.

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