Let’s Do Some Living After We Die

I struggled with that little field above. How does one title this?

“Funeral for a Friend”? No.

“Another One Bites the Dust”? Hell no.

. . . Wild Horses . . .

It’s happened again.

It was 1988 and I was sitting in French class. Monsieur Ellis was interrupted by the Spanish teacher. She came in and told him something in whispered tones. Without missing a beat, he pointed to the empty seat next to mine and announced that Gina, the girl who had become one of my dearest high school friends, had died that morning.

Gina was an artist. She loved Pink Floyd. And she had had a bought with pneumonia that she just couldn’t beat. She also had these strange lesions that came and went and eventually came and came and came. She had been an IV drug user. (But, really, who among us in 1988 hadn’t been?) Gina had long blonde hair and the thickest eyelashes I had ever seen. She had a gap between her teeth and she wore a lot of eyeliner and a fringed leather jacket – even in the summer.

Gina was one of the first “heterosexuals” to die in the AIDS outbreak in the 1980s. At least in Illinois.

And Monsieur Ellis pointed at her chair and announced that she had died like he was telling us our test results.

I was devastated.

But I was in French class. How does one mourn in French?

Fast forward through Grandpa Fred’s death, through a boyfriend’s death (car accident), through a number of family leave-takings, and place me squarely in the produce section of Kroger with my phone ringing and my Momma on the other end. Just wantin’ t’let me know that my closest male cousin in life was now on the other side.

As I thumped a melon.

As if it were nothing.

Because how do you mourn in the produce section?

Fast forward to last month when Facebook told me that Brother Preacherman‘s heart gave out before his spirit did.

Finding out about passings is never fun, but in the day of Facebook, we have decided to let social media do the dirty work for us.

I was pulling weeds on Sunday waiting for my beloved niece and her wife of ten years to arrive at my house when The Bad Eldest staggered out to the yard. “Momma. I know you hate to find out on Facebook. You haven’t been on Facebook today, right?”

My heart sank. I saw the tears streaking my baby-girl’s beautiful face. Puffy-eyed. Confused. Looking for a melon to thump.

“Who?” I tossed my handful of weeds aside and sat down hard.

Twenty-three year old, blonde-haired, blue-eyed, soft-spoken, crooked-smiled, pixie-child, funny-laugh, Southern-pride, WDE, turkey-hunting, raised-right, horsie-girl.

Given the appropriateness of age, my baby was closer to her than I was. It crushed me a little; it must have crushed her a lot. Something about watching my daughter’s face over the last two days as she comes to terms with the fact that her first friend has died has made me want to call everyone and remind them that I love them.

I keep giving in to that urge.

We are going to the wake tomorrow. My family and a small entourage of close friends – “We just don’t want to go alone.”

I was planning to write a post about the ritual of funerals and how Pagans perceive death differently from “one-lifers.” But I can’t. Not yet. Let me get through the funeral of this baby-faced beauty and maybe I can find solace in a discussion of ritual.

Until then, for Abby:

Crossroads

Well, damn.

The Bad Witch just opened an email. You know the kind? The kind that makes you unable to answer the phone or work or do anything real for a few hours.

Well, here I sit. A few unproductive hours later with a couple of phone calls to return.

My sometimes protectress, often teacher, and always kick-ass Voodoo-Mama-friend, “Mama Lisa,” crossed over on Saturday at the age of 98.

That’s a good run, I have to say. But it’s also kinda hot on the heals of having lost another spiritual guide, Brother Preacherman.

I’m jes feelin’ a little . . . at the crossroads.

Life and Death and The Bad Witch: aka Litha is Coming

I have had a lot of fodder rolling around in my Bad Brain this past week – Literature and Lore about Lucifer (perfect for an L post), Psychopomps, Triple Diety, The Reclamation of Seiðr, to name a few – and have wanted to share it with y’all.

But alas, life.

Or should I say, death.

I’m not maudlin or anything. Take all of this as vaguely tongue in cheek. I’m a little worn down by the death that seems to surround me at the moment, but I’m not morose about it.

Crazy how The Mother guards the hen from the dog.

When I wrote my “K” post, I told you that I didn’t have any “K” ideas floating in my brain.

I kinda lied.

I’d been thinking about Mother Keridwen in fits and spurts. One day I’ll learn to listen right away so The Powers That Be don’t have to smack so hard upside the head.

Last Sunday, a very important life-figure passed across suddenly. And I thank you, my readers and cyber-companions, for the sympaties you have already expressed. It means a lot to me that you share not only in my foibles and triumphs, but that you are touched by my pain and my losses as well. In many of our cases, we’ve never met, but we are part of each other’s lives. And I am grateful for you.

The wake was in Chicago on Thursday and the Funeral was yesterday in Birmingham. I’ve had a very strange reaction to this death. I haven’t seen him in twenty years and have only had minimal contact with him in the past two years. But I spent most of my childhood under this man’s watchful eye. It makes sense that I would mourn him, but I was entirely devastated for days.

On Monday, I got some medical news that is giving me a serious case of avoidance. And will, therefore, change the subject.

On Thursday, my Bad Children (well, the two oldest) were invited to watch the filming of one of our favorite TV series and, based on their ectomorphic body type, ended up applying for an extras roll. Who would have guessed that having picky eaters would have an upside? The show revolves around death and even has the word “Dead” in the title.

On Friday, insanely tragic events aligned which allowed my hunting dogs to get into my chicken coop and at six of eleven of my chicks. There were three three-month-olds and three nine-week-olds. I watched the younger ones hatch on Easter Sunday and have held them in my hands everyday since. Fortunately, all of my friends know that furbabies and featherbabies are much more than pets around here. I had to bury them because burning them (in my traumatized brain at the time) would smell too – – um, have I mentioned that my kids are already really skinny and hard to feed?

Then my friend suggested that Keridwen was behind my having five chicks spared from the carnage (and it was carnage).

So, slap a Bad Witch with a stubborn stick.

No really.

Quit killing everything and slap me with a stubborn stick; I honestly got the message before those three young students from my school were murdered this morning.

Death is part of life.

I get it.

Ironically, I have been trying to write a celebration of fertility and life for this weekend’s Litha celebration. But now I must accept that maybe I was being too fluffy about the whole thing? (I know, right? The Bad Witch, fluffy? Ha!) But I think I was concentrating too much on the sun and the light and not enough on why we value the light as we do. Because, in the end – Winter is Coming.

Maybe this will be the darkest Litha celebration ever. And maybe it will mean more as a result. Maybe I figured out why we celebrate it after all.

The thing about the Stark words, “Winter is Coming,” is that, no matter how long winter lasts, spring follows after.

As ever, I’ll let you know.

But for now I’m going to catch up some work so I can watch the undead tonight. (Not that I have hopes of excellence, it’s like a train wreck, I can’t look away.)

Love and both Light and Darkness,
TBW

Farewell Brother Larry

Good night to the man who constantly called attention to me in a Church of God prayer line: “I see the call [caul?] of God on you, child. The spirit is all over you!”

I made fun that I always forgot to open my circles.

This morning, Brother Preacherman died while preparing his Sunday sermon. Hope I go like that.

Love you, sir. Always did. Always will.

In the name of the Christ whom you taught me to revere,

TBW

Evocation, Eastern Star, Early Warning

When I say evocation, we can think of Theurgy (which is the first place my Bad Witch mind automatically goes) or embryogenesis (which is the second place my Bad Witch mind automatically goes) or, if you read about what it’s like to play word association games with The Bad Witch, you know that our script might run a little like this:[1]

Evocation : Monday

Evocation : Jambalaya

Evocation : Bathtub

Evocation : Smell

Smell? Yes, smell. When it comes to place memories, we are at the mercy of olfaction. Whenever I smell Band-Aids, I am sixteen and in the hall of a horribly impersonal medical clinic. reminiscences. Certain tastes evoke childhood, certain songs evoke – well, everything.[2] But stronger than anything is our sense of smell.

Corn-bread, subtle as you please, puts me in Phil Campbell, Alabama – in my mommy’s kitchen.[3]

Cigarettes, whisky, and a slight hint of sewage (you’d be surprised how often this combination crops up [4]) is NOLA in winter.

Burning leaves = My family’s 1980s lake home in St. Joseph, Michigan. And snakes.

Pipe smoke.

Grandpa.

Phew, ladies and gentlemen, The Bad Witch might need to bawl a minute.[5]

I told you that I’ve recently learned some interesting factoids about my family. This spurred a bit of rock-turning on The Bad Witch’s part. Bear with me, because this is a winding-road.[6]

Ready?

I have a maid. She is cherished. She has OCD. This is fantastic as maids go. Not so good for someone working in the home of a Witch or a Ceremonial Magician. Twist #2 – I inherited an ancient and ginormous mirror.[7] Cherished and I had to come to an understanding about what can and cannot be dusted. Long story short – she cleaned the son‘a gun and now my house smells like pipe smoke.[8]

Let the road wind a little. Back in April 2011, most of The Bad Witch’s family’s town was whisked off by an F5. My family was spared the brunt of it – by a cat’s whisker. But, damn. I can still smell that too.

As soon as the roads were open, we drove up to lend a hand where needed. But every hand I extended was met with the strangest of handshakes. I asked Momma, “Why are all the men giving me Masonic handshake?”

“They know your kin.” She made a circle around me with her finger, “And they know what you are. Must figure you’re an Eastern Star.”[9]

Fast-forward ten-months and I stumbled on some old family memorabilia. Including an Eastern Star dues card and ritual booklet.

Curious, I start tracking down lodges and learning a little more about my late Grandpa.

OK – Plot here. Let the road wind s’more.

He’s not my biological grandfather. He’s my mother’s older brother. There’s no inbreeding here (that’s elsewhere). He’s a bit older than Momma. When I was born, the hospital wouldn’t allow visitors; he told the staff that he was “The Grandpa!” and they let him visit newly-born and squishy-headed me. From that day to this, he’s been my Grandpa. He has biological grandchildren now. At the last family reunion, I got to see them. Their mother told them, “She may not really be Granddad’s grandbaby, but, to him, she was always special.”

More plot? OK. I’ve always been “bad.” Not really, I am notoriously sweet, compliant, and generous. But somehow, I was always led to believe that I was “bad.”[10] This made it easier for those who wanted to prey on me in adulthood. I’ve always felt the need to make contrition. Ablution. Atonement.

But Grandpa always said I was “good.” I can name a few adults [11] who were threatened by and resentful of his absolute adoration of teenaged me.

Grandpa had a stroke and passed beyond the veil just one week before I discovered I was pregnant with The Youngest.[12]

IK, it wasn't a men's urinal but I'm on a Surrealist kick.

Our family gathered at his house prior to the funeral.  North Alabama swarmed with Macs. My mother and I sat quietly, trying to stay out of the way while the widow’s [13] relatives placed the buffet and received mourners.  The Widow wasn’t there yet. Momma and I had a few glasses of iced tea each while we waited.  My sister and father arrived from the airport with my eldest aunt.  It had been a long flight from St. Petersburg and a long car-ride from Birmingham to Huntsville for the aging matriarch.

She had just lost her baby-brother and she needed to freshen up.[14]  Aunt Flora went directly to the bathroom to change and refresh herself.  She was in there a long time.  I know because I had started to watch the door.

I had had several glasses of tea.

Besides, she was old; I worried.

Finally, she emerged.  Her eyes were swollen with grief and she staggered into the hall asking if there was somewhere where she might lay down for a minute.  As soon as was “seeming,” Momma dashed into the bathroom.  Stunned by my Mother’s speed, my oldest sister sat down in the newly vacated spot next to me and said, “I wish Mom wasn’t so fast, I have been in the car for a long time!”  I wiggled in my seat and watched the time pass on the grandfather clock.

Momma was in there for a thoughtlessly long time.

Sissy and I expressed mutual concern about Aunt Flora’s well-being while we expressed exasperation at Mom’s delay.  When she came out, her eyes were swollen and her face was puffed with signs of weeping.  Her hands, still wet, trembled and she slumped into the nearest chair.  Sissy offered to let me go to the bathroom while she checked on Mom.  I demurred,[15] she had been in a car for hours; my situation was self-inflected.

While we haggled, The Widow, now home, popped in before us.

She was out in no time and it was Sissy’s turn. When Sissy appeared in the bathroom doorway after a surmountable time, she too appeared to have been weeping.  She had tried to compose herself but her lip was still quivering.  She grimaced as I passed her in the hall; she breathed in sterterously and I rushed in, nearly slamming the door closed behind me.  I was sad and at a funeral, yes; but I had to pee.  And I had to pee now.

I tussled with the new black dress I had to buy that morning – mechanically, and thus incongruously, I had packed a black wool suit to wear for a funeral in Alabama in August, therefore, I had to start my day in the mall. Oi. I wrestled my pantyhose down past my knees.  I knew better than to drink that much iced tea, served me right.

Relieved, I looked for some toilet paper remembering how Grandpa used to TP his sisters’ houses whenever he visited.  He was a great prankster. This is, perhaps, an unexpected trait from the recipient of a Bronze Star (+V) and a Purple Heart. Once, during a family reunion, he stole all of the toilet paper out of the women’s johns and put a running video camera in the sink area.  Aunt Lot was outraged when she heard him boast that he had footage of her meandering around the stalls with her drawers at her ankles.

I thought of that and I giggled as I relieved myself.

I peed like Austin-fricking-Powers.

I looked to my left to find the TP and I saw his lodge handbook. I gasped.  So tightly connected with his brethren, Grandpa kept the handbook in the privy. I giggled again.

Then I looked up and saw the towels. The Widow hadn’t been home since Grandpa’s stroke. This morning, no one but we four ladies had been in the bathroom.  I saw the distinctly male rumpling of the monogrammed towels, the beard wax in the terry cloth; they had an impression like Veronica’s veil.  My heart sank.  Struggling to redress myself without audibly wailing, I turned to the sink. And I didn’t giggle.

There.

His toothbrush was in its holder, his razor was on the shelf – his hairs still imbedded between the blades, his hairbrush and mustache comb were in their places and his nail clippers were still open. Then it struck me. Nearly thirty-years-old, I had the most childlike thought: “No one told his toothbrush that he had died.”

I wanted to shout ridiculously at the objects, “He’s is gone! We’re burying him today!  He won’t be back!  I’ve talked to all of my relatives and while he was good for a practical joke, he could never hold the punch line this long.  It’s no joke, you stupid toothbrush!  You’ll never see his smile again! He’s really gone forever; and you, silly razor, will never caress his handsome face again.”

I wanted to shout those things and to throw all of the objects that The Widow hadn’t had the time or mind to pack away – I wanted to heave them all into the tub, still ringed with his last bath.  I wanted to scream at and hurl the inanimate objects. But instead, I grabbed the sides of the sink and wept silently.

See?

And then I smelled his pipe.

Funny how our brains work. I can’t tell you if his essence was there and I smelled him, or if the lingering smoke in the towels registered in my hCG bionic nose, or if merely the memory of Grandpa triggered the synapse which told my brain to “smell pipe.”

It took me a while to compose myself and emerge from the bathroom.  Mom and Sissy sat together.  Sissy took one resigned look at me and said, “You saw his toothbrush too.”

Yeah.

And now, with crappy springs-a-comin’-but-not-before-a-bit-of-bluster-so-keep-The-Weather-Channel-on-weather and a squeaky-clean mirror, I smell his pipe in my house.

And that smell is evoking something from 1989 . . . but just exactly what storm’s a brewin’, I can’t be certain. Yet.

And I’ve had three conversations in ten days where folks have asked “Eastern Star” questions.

I’ll get back to you on that plotline, deal?

 

 

This post part of a year-long project. Rowan Pendragon’s The Pagan Blog Project; “a way to spend a full year dedicating time each week very specifically to studying, reflecting, and sharing . . . .    The project consists of a single blog post each week posted on prompt that will focus on a letter of the alphabet” (http://onewitchsway.com/pbp2012/).

[1] Some of you even know me well enough to understand one or two of those leaps. And for that, I say, “Thanks for loving me all the same.”

[2] Weather like today’s evokes tornadoes and the scariest few hours of my life: April 27, 2011 for the few hours when I couldn’t find The Momma.

[3] Likewise, moth-balls put me in her linen closet!

[4] Think: drinking and smoking in a neighbor’s yard with a bit of dog-shit on your boots.

[5] That’s a kind of evocation all its own. I don’t know about you, but when I get a good cry going, I call forth all sorts of shite.

[6] Recently, a friend said, “Everything with and about you has a plot and a story.” Yup. Aren’t cha glad?

[7] It should be in the headmaster’s office is all I’m saying.

[8] Five of us live here, we all smell it – it ain’t just me.

[9] Momma points at what I assume are auras that way. Very dismissive of her innate abilities, whenever she says prophetic things and I call her on it, she says, “Aw, that’s jes my schizophrenia acting up again.”  Whenever I say prophetic things, she tells me that I have her mother’s “Indian ways.” Therefore, I have chosen to call this phenomenon “Creeksophrenia.” (WODR.)

[10] For instance, I posted a comment on Facebook that I had to buy a prom dress for my 17 year old. I was told, “I always warned you that you’d have a daughter just like you. Payback time. What goes around comes around!” But it occurred to me that my daughter is fairly angelic. Aside from this Episcopal phase she’s going through. Yeah, just like me. Damn straight.

[11] But I won’t.

[12] Thirteen in two weeks.

[13] This was his fifth marriage. This was not a lifelong relationship. Just the last one.

[14] Having lost two children and a husband, grief was a strange friend to Aunt

[15] On account o’ I’M NICE!