Still Not Dead

June 26, 2014 at 11:12 pm (Death and Dying, Living With Chronic Illness, Medical, The Journey Towards Diagnosis) (, , , , , , )

I think I’ve told this story before: when I called my mom, I would always start by saying “I’m not dead!” This was because once she chastised me for waiting too long in between calls and it left her worrying I might have died. In fact, she would often leave messages for me that would said, “I just want to know you’re not dead!” It was a playful thing between us, because of our shared dark humor about living with chronic illness.

I say this to you because it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything on either blog. One would hope that means that there’s nothing to write about, but in fact the opposite is true. Things have been both busy and difficult in my life as of late, and I’ve had so much on my plate “writing a blog post” almost seemed like a frivolous endeavor.

It is made more complex with a new neurological symptom I’ve gained. For years, I’ve suffered from a very soft form of aphasia – basically, I can look at a cup, and know it is a cup, and can describe what a cup does, but I can’t say the word “cup”. It’s like someone has temporarily erased it from my memory. Now I find myself misspelling simple words over and over again (It took me three tries to get ‘misspelling’ right!) until I give up and use spell check. If you’ve seen me type, you know that I type super fast – 110 WPM, last measured – and I rarely get hung up by a word like that. And the words that catch me aren’t super difficult ones to spell – I spent 10 minutes on “column” the other day, writing “collum” over and over again. Needless to say, that makes it hard to write.

The big news about my health situation is my kidneys. As I shared earlier, I gained a large amount of water weight in a very short amount of time. I’ve been on several different diuretics, and use a pneumatic pump on my legs for 4-6 hours a day to push the fluid from my legs back into the core circulatory system. I’ve had to buy new shoes because my feet are swollen enough that my normal ones don’t fit. I have to be careful about my fluid intake – too much and I swell more, too little and I get dehydrated fast. It is really annoying and nothing seems to help.

It seems we’ve narrowed it down to where it’s very likely my kidneys. Not only am I dumping a lot of protein in my urine (symptom of kidney problems), but I’ve had flank pain that gets worse when I am dehydrated. I’ve seen a nephrologist and right now he has me getting blood and urine tests every week to see what needs to be done to get me on track.

There are also a host of other symptoms that cropped up, and we are trying to figure out what is related to what. I am having night sweats, insomnia, incredible fatigue (not just being tired because I can’t sleep at night, but being too tired to do anything and running out of energy just from sitting around and talking to people). My gait has suffered and even just walking around the house can be difficult.

There are also a host of things going on in my life that cannot be pushed back or avoided. My soon-to-be-ex-husband wants to change our separation agreement in ways that require me to have legal representation (ie, because I don’t agree with his proposal), but I can’t afford a lawyer and, sadly, my magical rolodex has yet to rustle up a family lawyer willing to take me on pro-bono. As separation agreements that don’t involve child custody are seen as very low priority, organizations like Legal Aid don’t cover them. So I have been applying to various charity organizations while simultaneously trying to prepare myself to represent myself pro se. I would rather eat rusty nails than do that, so I’m putting a lot of time into finding alternatives. There is also a lot of drama from that sector, and that’s all I’m going to say about that.

I also had a friend die from pancreatic cancer, only two months after being diagnosed. I spent time with him both as a friend and as a death shaman, and in the end I hope I was useful in helping him prepare to transition. I was there the night he died, and I did what I could to guide him to his next adventure. It was difficult for many reasons, and he was so treasured by his friends that the hospice actually thought he might be some kind of local celebrity. I think about him often. (I am planning to write an essay just about this, but I am not ready yet.)

It still feels like yesterday that my Mom died, and I’m still trying to tie up lose ends with my maternal family. I can’t seem to communicate with them clearly, no matter how hard I try. I had hoped that maybe my Mom’s death would help me reconcile with them, because I never met anyone from my father’s side, so they are all I have when it comes to blood-relations. But if things keep going the way they’re going, I may have to accept that my mother was the person who kept me connected to them, and with her gone there’s nothing left. I don’t know.

It’s funny, I started this post wanting to write about something very specific. I tried to post about it to FB this afternoon and my keyboard kept “accidentally” erasing it. And now I just don’t feel like I’m ready to write about it in any detail, so instead you get this. But it’s better than nothing, I guess.

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Contemplation and Dedication

December 30, 2013 at 2:18 am (Chronic Pain, Living, Living With Chronic Illness, Mental Health, Spiritual, The Panniculectomy, Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Today will be a year and a day since my ordeal. It has been a very difficult, draining, painful year. I have suffered so many different kinds of loss that I don’t know if I can cleanly separate one from another. They have come at me from every direction, from places I would have never suspected, and in ways that only made any sort of sense in retrospect. I spent a lot of time mourning. This should have surprised me a lot less than it did, having struck a complex and winding deal with Death herself, but I’m still a Fool who bumbles forward ignoring all the big “Dead End” signs along the way.

And then, a few days ago, a very small light was lit. I spoke to Hel directly, and the best way to describe what happened would be that I got my “annual review”. We spoke about times when I truly contemplated in the way She had asked, and times when I did everything I could to avoid said contemplation. She showed me in that transpersonal yet compassionate way how each distraction from my Purpose had been removed. It sometimes felt like a student of meditation getting wacked on the knuckles every time they were obviously not focusing. But I learn the best lessons through pain, both emotional and physical, so it’s not like She was speaking a foreign language.

After we went through the Year of Contemplation, I asked if my failures and misdeeds meant that I had to Contemplate for another year again. “Oh no”, She replies with a slightly amused grin, “It’s not like when a new lesson begins, the old ones end. It just means you are building upon the foundation, and contemplation was the first layer.” Oh yippie skippy.

The next theme came to me slowly. I saw some opportunities start to swirl and manifest around me, and having learned some of my lesson, I wondered if this was a test to see if I would give in to another diversion. As quickly as I could, I went back to Her and asked for clarification. I’ve made enough terrible mistakes already; I was willing to risk being told to figure it out on my own if it meant She might share more insight.

That’s when 2014’s theme was given to me, much in the same way that 2013 was the Year of Contemplation. This year is to be the Year of Dedication. I will still spend much time, likely even more than last year, in spiritual contemplation, but I will also be taking on the responsibilities of sorting out what people/places/things fall within my calling, and which ones only serve as distractions or hidey-holes where I can run away from the difficulties of my station. Some of the plans I have for 2014 have already shown how they are part of my Dedication, and other plans have already been deemed unfit.

I am still sorting out one aspect of Dedication, and I think my confusion is because I really want Her to give me a straight answer, and She wants me to find the right answer on my own. When I first was in preparation for the ordeal, I knew that She wanted some form of oath or promise that would bind me to Her. I had first toyed with the idea of becoming Her consort or spouse, and honestly the reason I didn’t explore that further was because I listened to someone I shouldn’t have who had big stakes in the outcome of that decision. But now I am unfettered (for the most part) and the question lays on the table again. For now, I am offering her my celibacy, which is going to be a very big challenge for me. For I am not only forgoing sexual contact as part of this experiment, but I am also consciously not looking or even really fantasizing about finding a new lover. (Right now, I have a mostly non-sexual relationship with Rave, and a few romantic relationships that are not only long distance, but that I rarely ever see; so the temptation has been present to try to find a new dating situation of some sort.) What I understand as the long term goal of this experiment has less to do with establishing a sexual or romantic relationship with Hel, and more about accepting the reality of my life at 40 years old.

I have tried, more than a few times, to establish a “family”. In some cases, I married or created a partnership with a person whom I felt was able and willing to establish a family unit with, only to have the relationships fall apart and with that, a complete cut-off from their life. Other than that, I have tried starting covens, communal families of choice, and other group dynamics that focused on a long-term familial devotion to one another, but most of them (really, save one) have all eventually given in to entropy. I know this yearning for family is partially due to the instability of my childhood; and that has become even more of an issue with my mother’s passing early in December. I have never met my father’s extended family, and my maternal one has become estranged from me over time. The feeling is even stronger and sadder now that both of my parents are dead; even my brother voiced his concern to me that without my mother, we may all lose touch with each other.

I also have always wanted children. I had the opportunity once when I was much younger, but I opted out thinking that I would someday reach a more stable relationship in which to bring offspring. I have tried, both in the unofficial “hey, let’s just stop using protection” path, as well as with a more formal “let’s track my ovulation and basal body temperature and have sex when things look ripe for it”, and other than a few miscarriages it just never happened. Now I am having unmistakable signs of perimenopause, and I don’t have a fertile partner of the right biological sex in order to give it one last try. And even if I did, my life is just not conducive to the responsibilities inherent in having a child, which is why adoption is not an alternative. My best hopes is to try to remain an active part of my godson’s lives, and accept my childless lot.

It’s a lot to give up. When other people were dreaming of stellar careers and fancy trips, I’ve always had a far simpler vision of what I thought my life would be like. I just wanted a stable family life wherein all of the people involved had made a lifelong commitment to love and respect each other, and work collaboratively in raising some kick-ass children. I never really cared about what I would be doing or how much money we had, just that there were both adults and children in my life and that we had a loving, fun-filled home.

Then again, when I surrendered, first to Loki and later to Hel, I never asked for the family package. In fact, I consider myself lucky that I have been able to have the relationships I have experienced in the last fifteen years, and I have fond memories of all of them, even the ones that ended on bad terms. I know plenty of spirit workers who have been denied the opportunity to have mortal lovers at all, so I know they were a blessing. And there’s nothing written in stone that I won’t be able to have them in the future (yet); it’s just that I need to take this time to dedicate myself to the reality I am in, have been given, and to stop pining and/or trying to create a reality that is not mine to have. So the celibacy is less about not having sex (I am still allowed to masturbate, thank you Hel), and more about letting those dreams slowly rot on Her altar. If I were to take time to find and pursue a new lover, it would very much distract me from that process, and rekindle my hope.

And She has said that this is not forever, and that any changes to that I will have some say in. If Mx. Perfect-for-Del shows up, then part of that perfectness will have to be the understanding that sex is not on the table right away – not that it was with lovers in my past, either – and that my calling as Her shaman-and-sometimes-consort takes a huge precedence over any mortal, any day. It means that the tasks and responsibilities I take on this year as I begin to hone-in on what I am dedicating myself to are very much more important in terms of time, energy, focus, and availability. I will have to be very clear and unrelenting in my communication about what I am able to share with a lover, and if they can’t accept that, it’s better we know that up front, than spend a long time both hoping that things will somehow change.

I know that this year of dedication will be a lot of work. Not only personal work in the same way contemplation was, but also actual “must be awake, alert, and able to engage” types of work. My pain has been bad enough for the last two months that my doctor is very concerned, and I am also showing some early signs that I may have a new abscess. But part of what She wants from me is to find the balance between making time to do the things that allow me to be as functional as possible – like going to doctor’s appointments, seeking out therapies, eating well and getting what exercise I can tolerate, etc – but at the same time, not falling into another dark hole of counterproductive nothingness just because I feel shitty. I don’t know where that balance is quite yet, but I will sure be trying to find it.

I have so many other things to write about – obviously, my mother’s death being one of them – and honesty, I’ve started six or seven different entries and I eventually realize that I’m just not ready to share so openly yet. Another sad consequence of 2013 is that I had to learn to be much more circumspect about what I share online, as I have found more than once, someone using my words, my experiences, my life, etc as a way to attack, belittle, hurt, shame, or punish me. Some of the entries that I have deleted were purely emotional responses to such things, and I know that sort of pettiness does nothing but make me look like a jerk – I know this, because the people who did these things sure looked like jerks when they did it first. Instead, I am taking some time to note important thoughts, feelings, and insights, and when I am able to write from a less tumultuous perspective, I will get back into the swing of things.

But for now…

Hail Hel, Lady of Mercy and Patience.

Hail Hel, Who is as Warm as She is Cold.

Hail Hel, Who Loves Silly Fools Who Take Too Long To Learn.

Hail Hel, Giver of Life and Death in Equal Measure.

Hail Hel, Entropic Transformation.

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It’s Not About the People, Lesson 1

November 18, 2013 at 1:17 am (Death and Dying, Mental Health, Spiritual) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

This post has been brewing in my brain all year. I guess I was sort of waiting for a specific moment of inspiration or insight to commit it to an essay, but since my task was to contemplate what it means, not figure out what it means (both for me and in general), I’m going to share some places my year-long project for Hel has taken me.

This simple statement – It’s Not About the People – has been one hell of a koan-like puzzle for me. And merely sitting with my confusion, rather than trying to find my way out, taught me the first of many lessons that I have since tried to apply to my life.

Lesson One: Your Job is not to make people happy, or tell them what they want to hear, or do things for them so that they will like you.

I will admit, I am a people pleaser. Growing up, I compensated for my lack of charisma and attraction by being the friend who makes you happy. If you need to laugh, I have funny jokes and stories. If you need someone to help you move, I was there and brought three friends. If you need a rare-edition book for your master’s thesis, I will devote time and energy to find it. Nowadays, I joke about my “magickal rolodex” being my superpower, in that I know such a diverse number of people who also have a wide range of skills, collections, and interests, that no matter what you might need in your life, I probably know someone who has it or can help you do it or someone who will do it for you.

But these things carry a price, something that I have to stop ignoring and come to terms with. As I am losing mobility, having fewer and fewer good spoon days, and my resources are dwindling, I just cannot afford to be all things to all people. Sometimes I can’t even afford to be one thing to the right person – looking at some of my recently failed relationships, it’s obvious to me that there were parts where I just didn’t show up and engage enough. And I’m not deluding myself into thinking that it’s all related to my physical health – I’ve been pretty depressed this year and sometimes my ability to engage with others was extremely limited because of my depression. I am taking steps to at least face how bad my depression has gotten, but right now I don’t see an immediate burst of sunshine on the horizon. My counselor reminds me that sometimes the true observation is “Things fucking suck right now.”

As I explored this facet of the koan, I really began in earnest to think about and enact some much-needed boundaries in my life. There were definitely areas that were sapping my resources fast and dirty, and it will not surprise you that most of those areas reacted with the biggest and more painful responses when I tried to stifle the flow a little. There were some people/places/things that had come to expect me to jump when they called, to never ask for compensation for my time and efforts (and in some cases, even refusing to reimburse me for monetary investments). It has cost me at least one friendship, which broke my heart. But at the same time, it gave me an intense sense of clarity as to how some people define what it means to be a friend – that for some, if you’re not actively adding benefit to their life in a tangible way, you’re not worth a phone call or email once in a while.

I also had to turn this part inside out, and I will admit that I am still a work in progress on this. I had to look at how I deal with the vast amount of relationships (not just romantic/sexual, but all different kinds) I consider important and detail to myself what levels of effort these relationships need. The obvious example is my relationship with email – I have a reputation of never answering my email, or not answering it in a timely fashion. I tend to hide behind physical excuses, although they are sometimes legitimate, about my inability to sit and type for long periods of time. (I have tried dictation, but it doesn’t work as well for reasons that I won’t get into.) But I’d be a big fat liar if I said that was the only, or even the most common reason why I don’t respond to emails, return phone calls, or other forms of communication. I did a lot of meditating on the whys and wherefores about this, and two flaws I have decided to work on. One is feeling overwhelmed too easily. It would be embarrassing for me to admit how small a day’s itinerary can be before I throw my hands up and freak out. Like most people, I have days when I am more or less productive, but the days I am less productive have become to far outweigh the more productive ones.

Part of that is a honest coming to terms with how much actual energy I have on an average day. Although most people have days where they plan much more than they can actually accomplish, that has become almost a daily occurence for me. I’m either wildly optimistic about how much I can do, or I’m overly pessimistic and do very little. The problem becomes that there are rarely days where I land somewhere in the middle – once I fail to accomplish one or two tasks, I throw in the towel and spend the rest of the day goofing off. It also has the effect of beating myself up over stuff I failed to accomplish, as well as a slowly increasing backlog that becomes really overwhelming (vs. my anxiety driven feelings of overwhelm, which may or may not relate to the actual amount of stuff I’m supposed to be doing).

This leaves me in a pretty obvious quandry: If I make “make people happy” or it’s corollary, “Do things so people will like you”, my first priority; but I am coming to stark terms about exactly how much I can expect to accomplish on a regular basis – something has to give. And although in a dream world the solution would be to find the power-up magic pills in my real-life video game and suddenly have more stamina/less pain; the harsh reality in my real-life documentary is that I can’t always make people happy if their happiness is contingent on me keeping up with correspondence or doing other forms of work (especially for free – but that’s less about money and more about reciprocity).

Hel comes to remind me, or maybe just school me, that my first and most important priority is serving the Gods, and the work that They ask of me. So learning how to create better boundaries and knowing my limitations when it comes to “the people”, helps me be a better shaman and God-employee because They get my best. Many, if not all, the people in my life give lip service to understanding this, but I can probably count on fingers how many really grok how that has transformed my life. It has been difficult, because obviously what I would like to do with my life and my time is sometimes at direct odds with what They want from me. And in some cases, I have been tasked with doing the same thing over and over again until something happens (that is outside my control), and it feels downright wrong to spend time on something that has a high chance of being shoved back in my face, rather than spend time answering email and being social. But this is only one of the harsh realities of the price I paid to live in December, that although I had already forfeited my Will to Loki, that the deal with Hel included forfeiting most of my Life. This is compounded by the other, less obvious “benefit” that I have several Divine Bosses, and even a few that just Boss Me Around, and the tangible web/chains of the many oaths and Relationships I have developed over time has made me very circumspect about my own cavalier attitude I once held about accepting the offer of Whatever God Showed Interest, rather than really sitting and figuring out if I had the time and energy I would be asked for.

In short, I started acting with the Gods the way I acted with my schoolmates when I was in Junior High School. I didn’t care if you were a Jock, a Prep, a Freak, a Stoner, a Bad Kid – if you showed me the least amount of attention, I would do almost anything you asked as long as you continued to be my friend. I mean, I had more than one person say, to my face, that they really liked being my friend but they didn’t want the people at school to know (because then they would become secondary targets to the teasing/torture I got on a regular basis), and made me agree to keep our friendship a secret. I am not quite so desperate when it comes to Gods, but I know people who have been, and continue to be so. They are just so happy that Someone, Anyone is paying them attention, that they don’t really think through what the consequences might be. Loki may be showing you some attention, but don’t come crying to me if your life gets completely upended and you can’t seem to make heads or tails of anything anymore – invite a God of Eternal Change into you life, you get exactly what’s on the tin. Odin may propose marriage to you, which sounds romantic and important and satisfying, until you learn that He wants you to abstain from human relationships, or decides that you should quit your only-means-of-financial-support job and travel around the country helping the homeless and doing ritual for Him. There are lots of stories like this, and they tend to be the stories that you don’t find on the Internet – they are the ones told around campfires, or after rituals, or during pastoral care sessions.

This is where lesson 1 bleeds into lesson 2, so I will let you know what lesson 2 is as foreshadowing for my next essay:

Being a shaman means that you work for the Gods, not for your clients.

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How Do You Mourn?

October 31, 2013 at 2:23 am (Death and Dying, Spiritual) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

I read an article today about a photo-Tumblr that is solely comprised of “selfies”- pictures one takes onesself, “duckface” optional  – at funerals. Some of the images even had the dearly departed in the background. The author of the article used this to make the point that we, as a society, no longer learn how to mourn.

Historically, when a person died, they were kept in the house for a few days so people could come by, pay their respects, and mourn with the family. Death was a tangible thing, and in some cultures families or other groups of people (not professionals) would wash and dress the corpse in preparation for burial. Then, the funeral services became a thing, and once Aunt Tilly dies, she is whisked away to a mystical place where they make her look as alive as possible (if you have a viewing), or put her in a container where you don’t have to see her dead body.

On top of this, most families are wishy-washy as to how to explain death to children. There’s this express notion that you shouldn’t upset them, which seems a little odd to me. Losing a loved one is inherently upsetting, and eventually that kid is going to grow up and realize that Grandpa isn’t off having a very long nap, or is on the longest Disney vacation ever. We are so afraid of the mysteries of death and afraid of not knowing the answers to what children may ask about what happens after death.

But the predictable thing that happens after death is mourning. Even if the person who died isn’t someone you were personally close to, knowing that person won’t ever make another movie or write another book or show up at Christmas dinner ever again is a sad thing. You’ve invested some amount of energy into that relationship, whether it’s your father or your favorite musician. Knowing that you have to move forward in the story of life without the unique contributions that person, that relationship brought to your life and the lives of those around you can be a hard thing to face. Of course, on top of that, it calls into question our beliefs about what happens after death – whether you believe they’re just a decaying food source for the earth or drinking flagons of mead in Valhalla – I know that every time something ends, I wonder what happens to the entity that was.

This goes even further into our every day lives, because it’s not just people we love who stop existing in the form we’re most accustomed to. You might lose a job you legitimately loved, or have to leave the town you grew up in, or decide that your relationship is no longer working and needs to end. Perhaps these things, too, have some sort of afterlife? Maybe you start to collect photographs of your hometown, or write emails to former co-workers, or in some other way try to keep some energetic tie ennervated even though it isn’t as direct as it once was. I know that every so often, I google ex lovers just to see what they’re doing with their lives, what happened to them after they were a significant part of my life. I notice if they’re still listening to that band I introduced them to, or have kept the hairstyle I told them was sexy. I like to know that I’ve had an affect on them, even though our connection is severed or different than it was.

But when things, people, places, situations, come to an end, often we have no idea what we’re “supposed” to do. We feel confused and lonely – and that’s unfortunate. My family, being both Irish and WASP-ish, was one where you did not engage in big shows of emotion outside of the family house. No matter what was going on in life, once you walked out the door you were happy, healthy, and well-adjusted. So when we rushed to the hospital because Mom was sick, or when my father sat us down and blamed each one of us individually for why he was leaving (even though he came back about 5 hours later), I was taught that you didn’t discuss this to outsiders. Eventually, an exception was made for therapists, and maybe pastors, but that’s about as far as it went.

So personally, I never really learned how to mourn. There were no rituals or ceremonies that gave us free space to truly feel and express our emotions – maybe a tear or two at a funeral, but everyone looked askance if you started to sob – and if you chose to redirect your sense of loss by being sullen, difficult, rebellious, or detached, that was grounds for punishment. In the end, I was shown the only response to loss is to bottle it up and wait until you saw your therapist.

It’s only been the last few years that I’ve really started thinking, writing, and talking about emotional catharsis around mourning. I’ve had clients and friends come to me after someone they love has died, feeling lost and confused because they feel like they should do something, but they don’t know what. Sometimes, or especially, it’s after the funeral is over and they’ve had a few days to really think and feel and process, and by then you feel like you lost your chance because that’s what the ritual was supposed to be for. When my father died, I did the majority of the planning and execution for his funeral, so for me, it was difficult to dig deep and really figure out what I was feeling and what I wanted to do with those feelings, because I was busy finding the right music and figuring out where the funeral would take place and writing programs and delivering my eulogy.  It wasn’t until months later that I realized I had truly shut off any sort of emotional response to his passing, and I found myself feeling guilty for not “doing more” to memorialize him, and to process the complex emotions that I was having.

This is one of the reasons Samhain is one of my favorite Pagan holidays. It is a time and place where people are encouraged to truly mourn their dead, in whatever way feels right, and allow themselves to have whatever emotional response they need. And there’s no rule that says you can’t mourn your dead every Samhain – you don’t just have to do it the year they die, you can do it as long as you want, as long as you think you need, for decades if need be – in fact, that’s the way the holiday is set up. You don’t have to bury your loved one once and then move on in life; you can ritualize their passing, and the grief associated with that passing, for as long as you need to.

Another way I have incorporated open expressions of mourning into my life is by volunteering to mourn for others. When a friend or family member suffers a loss, I usually offer to mourn for them when I do my Rituals of the Dead. My “death altar” has items, pictures, tokens, and the like of friend’s fathers, mothers, high school buddies, as well as some from people I’ve personally known. And when I am feeling overwhelmed with sadness, as I do sometimes while dealing with depression, I put on all black and take out all the tokens and cry. I say their names, if I know them, and I hold their tokens close to my heart and just let out unadulterated grief. I figure if I’m going to suffer from uncontrollable crying jags due to depression, I might as well put them to good use.

I also build little mini-altars for my dead, by first burning a seven day candle until it is completely evaporated, usually lit as soon as I hear of their passing (or if they are very close to death and all indications say that’s what will happen). When the glass container is empty, I gather small items that make me think of them – a ticket stub from a movie we saw, a drawing of a brand I gave them, poems that make me think of them, etc – and fill the glass. I’ll also use “traditional” things, like rue, dried rose petals, lavender, fall leaves, and anything else that’s somehow connected with the death/decay/mourning part of the cycle. Sometimes I leave these at the gravesite, or I bury them somewhere appropriate, or give them to someone who is suffering and might find comfort with it. And sometimes I leave them on my altar, a way to create and maintain a connection with them (either symbolically or energetically).

What’s great about these things is that they don’t require you to have any one singular belief about the afterlife. This is not what these rituals and symbols are about. You can still write your loved ones letters after they have passed and still believe that they are mere wormfood. Or you can rest in your certainty that you have no friggin’ clue what happens to us after we die, and burn a candle in someone’s honor. These things are about you, your grief, your loss, what you need to do to allow yourself a significant moment to fully embody and express what this feels like to you. They don’t even have to look like traditional funeral tropes – if your friend was a drag queen, you can get dressed up and dance to Queen, go to a local drag bar and tip the queen that you think they’d be most impressed by, or maybe even get your ass on stage and do a drag number dedicated to your friend.

You can also use these things to help when the thing that passed was not a person. When my marriage ended, I found a piece of jewelry that was handmade for our wedding, and I placed in on the “death altar” while I spoke aloud about the end of my marriage, the death of the dreams I had when we got married, and the death of myself as his spouse. When I leave a house I have bonded with, I usually keep a token (most often a key, as I like keys) and when I feel nostalgic or sad that part of life is over, I’ll take it out and let it direct my memory fugue. Heck, there are still girl clothes I own that I can’t get rid of, because they’re too sentimental to me, even though I’ll likely never wear them again.

Samhain can be a time for these kinds of grief, too. It is the symbolic end of the agricultural cycle, where the crops have been harvested and now the plant matter left over is used to seed and fertilize the soil for next year’s harvest. We get ready for the dark of the winter by recognizing that which has served its purpose and needs to metamorphose into whatever’s next for you. You can use this symbolism to quit a bad habit, end a hurtful situation, let a part of you go that no longer serves you, recognize who you used to be and prepare for who you are to become. You can take a moment and allow the sadness of all the changes that have happened in the last year (or whenever) to flow out of you, in hopes that when you are ready to meet new and different experiences, you can draw from these memories without feeling the pain and loss. You can make Grandma Jo’s apple pie for your friends without sobbing through every bite. You can tell funny stories about when you used to work a corporate job, or when you used to be a girl, or when you used to only date boys. This is a great crucible to allow embarrassing, sad, hurtful, frustrating, and hellishly difficult situations become fodder for those stories that are only funny in retrospect. Or maybe use it as a story line for your novel, or inspiration for your next play, or to create a new RPG character.

So this is what I leave you with this Samhain: it’s okay to grieve. It’s okay to not know how to mourn, and to just open yourself up in a place you feel safe to do so, and sit with your feelings. Express them. Find rituals and symbols that facilitate this unburdening. Tell funny stories about your dead. Get rip roaringly drunk on your granddad’s favorite whisky. Go to the restaurant where you had your first date with your ex, and order the same thing you did then. Cry in public. Go visit a cemetery, find the oldest grave, and leave them an offering. You don’t need anyone’s permission to feel whatever the hell you feel about people and things and situations that are no longer part of your life. It’s also okay not to feel sad about these things – maybe your parent was abusive, and with their passing you have a better sense of safety and support. Maybe that job was holding you back from starting your own business, or living in a state you’d prefer. Mourning doesn’t always have to be all black lace and tissues – sometimes it’s a selfie taken in the funeral home’s bathroom.

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Home

June 11, 2013 at 2:06 am (Disability, Living, Living With Chronic Illness, Mental Health) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

When I think of home
I think of a place where there’s love overflowing
I wish I was home
I wish I was back there with the things I been knowing

Wind that makes the tall trees bend into leaning
Suddenly the snowflakes that fall have a meaning
Sprinklin’ the scene, makes it all clean

Maybe there’s a chance for me to go back there
Now that I have some direction
It would sure be nice to be back home
Where there’s love and affection
And just maybe I can convince time to slow up
Giving me enough time in my life to grow up
Time be my friend, let me start again

Suddenly my world has changed it’s face
But I still know where I’m going
I have had my mind spun around in space
And yet I’ve watched it growing

~”Home”, The Wiz

I’ve been spending a lot of time here in the Apartment at the End of the Universe, as my current health situation requires it. I’m still healing a wound from the inside out, in hopes that by doing so it will create scar tissue where I’ve been developing these abscesses. I’ve been attached to a machine called a Wound VAC, that basically sucks out the fluid from the wound, helping it heal faster and keeping any pockets from forming. I have a nurse who comes to my house three times a week to change the bandage and check the wound, and in order to receive that service I have to remain “homebound” – which has been explained to me as “a state in which leaving the home is very difficult or a major effort”. There’s the practical side of it – the nurse comes here three times a week, so I have to be here for those visits, and can’t make arrangements to get the same service somewhere else (which was the opposite of what I was told in the hospital, but whatever). As I didn’t know that the home nurse could be taken away if I am no longer considered “homebound”, I mentioned to her an upcoming weekend trip, and that’s when I learned that I can’t even discuss with her leaving the house on a regular basis for anything other than a family emergency or somesuch. So I’ve just been having a few “family emergencies” lately.

It is a hard thing for me to accept, this idea that I’ve been classified “housebound”. I mean, I am deeply grateful that the nurse comes here, rather than me having to make arrangements to be driven to the local wound care center three times a week. Right now, my only means of transportation during the “work day” is a woman I pay an hourly wage to drive me places, supported by a few incredibly awesome friends who drive long distances to take me to appointments when my driver cannot. I flat out could not afford to pay to go to the wound care center three times a week; they have a van they could pick me up in, but then I’d have to use either my walker or cane to get around as there would be no one to push my wheelchair around, and the layout of the center would mean a great deal of walking. Walking has become more and more difficult for me, as my legs have been both swollen and very painful to touch, much less walk on. There are days I use my walker just to get around my house, which isn’t very big.

I also have been adapting to living in Hagerstown, which is in western Maryland, not close to either where most of my friends live, or a major urban center. It’s about an hour and forty minutes to Baltimore, and two hours to DC. I don’t have any friends who live close enough or who have open enough schedules to get together to do anything fun; there’s not a whole lot going on in the general area that could be done between the time Rave gets home from work and we go to bed without a significant amount of driving. We really feel like the “…at the End of the Universe” part of our house’s name has turned out to be more true than even we originally thought. We can’t jaunt out to a Tuesday night BR class or a Frederick munch without significant planning. There’s not a whole lot for non-drinking weirdoes to do in Hagerstown outside of going out to eat, which we can’t really afford.

This happens to intersect with a lot of other pondering I’ve been doing about the concept of “home”. The last few weeks, since I’ve been trapped at home a lot (save for a couple of weekend events), I’ve been spending my solitude doing a lot of mental processing about the divorce. It sounds ridiculous, but even though I suspected something was amiss in our relationship for months before the shit hit the fan, I was completely unprepared for the reality of our separation. Added to that, I really expected how he and I would deal with our separation completely differently. He continually swore that he wanted to remain “friends”, that he would uphold his oath to be my “family”, but other than terse emails about logistics (mostly money), he refuses to talk to me at all. I’ve offered to meet him face to face, talk to him on the phone, or even trade emails, but he doesn’t even say “no”, he just refuses to respond. Any time a conversation turns from logistics to anything personal, he cuts off correspondence completely and/or only responds to the parts of the messages he wants to. I find it so ironic, because I would never have guessed that it would be me reaching out and trying to start the reconciliation conversations; I am pretty honest with people that I am very, very rarely (if ever) friendly with my exes. This is not the first time that my partner tells me that they want to be friends with their exes, but then when things end they actively ignore me and pretend I don’t exist unless they absolutely have to deal with it.

I was very hesitant to get married a second time. My first marriage was pretty much a huge disaster, where I suffered emotional and mental abuse, and the relationship-I-call-spousal-even-though-we-never-got-married wasn’t much different, although to be transparent I feel that relationship was bad for both of us in hindsight. I also constantly struggled with my ability to trust my STBX, knowing he had a history of cheating on his partner and not much relationship experience under his belt. But what happened to change my mind had nothing to do with love or romance (especially since neither of us are particularly romantic people). I really had begun to feel that he and I had created a family unit; my love for him was as much familial as it was erotic.

I have a complicated relationship with my birth family. I love my mother and my sister very much, and I talk to them on a semi-regular basis. But that’s about all I have in my corner – I never really met anyone from my father’s extended family, so I don’t have any relationships there, and my maternal family…well, “black sheep” doesn’t even begin to explain how they treat me. I mean, they try to be friendly when we’re forced to be at a family event together, but none of them call me or know anything about my day to day life at all. And this lack is something I have keenly felt for a long time – I have a whole composition notebook I filled with angsty prose and poetry back when I was 24 or so, most of which was directly about my lack of “home”.

One of the terrible things I had taken away from me when I went through my shamanic transition was that the town I grew up in, the only place that really had any nostalgic magic for me, I lost that connection with it. I used to go there from time to time and go to places I used to hang out at when I was a kid, and I would get a sense of deep love and belonging from the place. I could “fill my cup” of having a place that fed my need to have a place I knew intimately, a place where I could find my way around without a GPS or a map or Yelp or anything like that. Where I could speak to the land spirits without much difficulty, on a regular basis, and knew what kinds of offerings they liked and where to leave them. When I left NY for MD, it was like someone went back to my hometown and turned all the spirits away from me; I describe it as “tasting like ash”. It feels like it belongs to someone else, someone I used to know, but isn’t accessible anymore.

When I married Mike, we were also making a commitment to live in Maryland for at least 10 years. We had discussed it at length, considered buying a house and creating roots. Before then, we weren’t sure if we would go back to NY (since we were both natives there) or maybe hang out in MD for a few years, or what. No, we made the considered decision to created family-of-choice ties with our friends and lovers in Maryland. That’s why our wedding was less focused on us declaring love for each other, and much more focused on the concept of “creating a family”. For me, this was so incredibly important and emotionally satisfying, because it gave me something I had been looking for; a sense of “family”, and a sense of “home”.

This year, due to a lot of little and big reasons, I decided that I would start looking for new-to-me events to teach at, and maybe take a break from some events I have attended for many years. So far, it’s been pretty good; but tonight I’m dealing with an unexpected consequence of that decision. Due to the “housebound” stuff, as well as some other medical stuff going on, I am home on this night for the first time in at least seven years. This week is Free Spirit Gathering, a Pagan camping event in Northern Maryland that I have attended since 2003. This is one of those events that I don’t even contemplate when I make a year’s calendar; I just know I’m going to be there. The last few years, I’ve been the department head of their mobility and roving security department, as well as teaching a few classes. It was the first big event I attended after moving to Maryland. I know probably more than 50 people who attend the event, and most of them I consider to be friends, if not family-of-choice. I stay in the same cabin with my Leather family every year, and we all know which beds are for which people. It’s not even discussed or thought about, it just happens.

Over the past month, it became clearer and clearer that I couldn’t go, at least not for the week. I tried very, very hard to change that, because this depressive funk I’ve been stuck in would definitely benefit from being around my family of choice, being in a place/time that feels homey to me. I love the campground where this event takes place, and feel connected to it as many others do. And there is an energy that awakens the land during this particular event that I do not feel when I am there with other groups.

At the same time, many of the things that make the event feel homey were starting to fall apart. My partner Winter decided not to attend; this was the one event we attend together where we spend a lot of time just hanging around each other (rather than running from one thing to another). I understand why he decided not to go, but then we got into a very strange place in our relationship where we stopped talking. I’ve reached out to him and told him I would really like to talk, and, like the STBX, I just get silence. I decided that must mean he needs time to deal with this strangeness, so even though today is his birthday, I decided not to call even though I very, very much wanted to. I feel the lack of our connection deeply; not just the lack of communication, but like I do not matter to the Clan we both belong to – another family I have tried to make my own. I feel like decisions are made without even thinking to let me know, much less asking for my input. I don’t understand where I stand in the structure, so I have decided not to push the issue and just let things happen as they do. But I can’t say I’m happy about it.

My Bear Family, another family-of-choice I love dearly, has also declared that this year is the last that they’ll attend FSG. I completely understand this decision, as the FSG community has been very negative (and at times, downright nasty) to some of us, and it’s just best that we leave places where it’s clear we’re not wanted. However, there isn’t another event that we all attend en masse. In fact, we haven’t all been in the same place since the STBX left us. I don’t know what the future of our family will hold, as we used to have a clearer vision as to who we were and what we wanted to do, but we don’t spend enough social time together to talk about it or actually make anything happen. I’m hoping that maybe, if we mutually decide to skip FSG, that maybe we can all decide to go somewhere (an event or not) together once a year, if not more often, just so we can all hang out together.

So maybe you’re beginning to see why I feel so…divorced…from feeling like I’m at “home”. The place I live in is nice, I love this little house, but it feels so much like a “landing pad”. I don’t want to put down roots here, because I don’t like living so far away from any of my close friends or any semblance of a social life. I’ve been openly thinking about moving to Massachusetts, but I don’t know how I’m going to afford that, or deal with many of the issues that I’d have to settle before I could do that. I’d have to find a completely new medical support system. Granted, I do have a group of friends who live within a two hour radius of each other, so at the very least I wouldn’t feel quite so solitary in the sticks.

I remind myself that this is supposed to be a year of contemplation, and living in a place that feels temporary does contribute to that, as well as being forced to stay home more often. I’m just having a terrible time keeping “contemplation” from becoming “rumination”, where I start to think about all the things that have gone wrong in my life in the past two years and how I ended up where I am now. A lot of my current situation was not by choice at all – I did not choose to move to Hagerstown, it just sorta happened. I did not choose for my STBX to completely cut me out of my life. I did not choose to develop new illnesses that make leaving the house even more difficult than it was before. I did not choose to have my financial situation tank quite this badly. I don’t want to sound like I was just standing there while all these things happened to me, as though I had no control at all; I know that’s not true, but that’s another contemplation/rumination issue again.

So here’s the question, then: Am I meant to have a family? Or is this something I am too much of a monster/non-human to ever achieve? Is anywhere ever going to be “home”? Am I ever going to look at a mountain, a river, an open sky, a horizon and know that this particular place sings to me like no other? Am I ever going to collapse into a bed and really feel 100% comfortable to be myself in that space? What do I need to do to make these things happen? Is it worth it, if I think I don’t have much time left?

I have this (pretty standard) desire to die “at home”. I absolutely do not want to die in a hospital. I want to be somewhere I feel totally comfortable, where I feel loved by both the people and the vaettir of the place, where I can release my attachments in the safe knowledge that the love I feel will go with me to the other side. And what I’ve realized this past month, is that I don’t know where this place is, or who will eventually end up being in that circle. It’s tempting to look at the people I hold close right now and know they’ll be there, but if you asked me eight months ago, I would have given you a much, much different answer than I would today. Nothing is permanent, everything is possible. I’m starting to wonder if I should just embrace the idea of dying alone, so I don’t have to worry about all the drama and heartache that goes into finding these things. I’m so tired of it. I’ve put so much work into making so many families, only to have to leave them in ruins, or be asked to leave as they outgrow me, or find out they never took it as seriously as I did, or whatever. Maybe this is why when I reach out to my ancestral line, I get crickets. I belong to no family, I have no line, I have no home.

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He’ll Look Around the Room; He Won’t Tell You His Plan

January 1, 2013 at 1:59 am (Hospitalizations, Living, Living With Chronic Illness, Medical, Spiritual, The Journey Towards Diagnosis, The Panniculectomy) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Maybe it’s all the opiates, but I keep wanting to say something profound about how this year was full of upheavals for me and sound all poetic and mystical and intelligent. But really, I think it would just be rehashing stuff I’ve already said and done, and after surviving my ordeal I have very little desire to look backwards anymore – at least for now. I am choosing to look towards potentiality, towards the empty status update box, the (mostly) empty Google calendar, the blinking cursor at the beginning of the open Word document, and taking a nice deep breath.

A lot of my recent Underworld journey* put my feet on a very specific path, and the first step, 2013, is about being a year of contemplation – and really, things have all fell in line to make that very easy. I’m moving into a house where I will need much less help taking care of myself; both in that it is all on one floor and therefore I can make my own food, do my own laundry, and the like, but also because I will be living with my full time slave who receives such joy in her service. (And boy howdy does it make a difference when someone who you rely on for assistance does these things with an open and happy heart, rather than a resentful and lazy one.) I have much less teaching commitments, and I’m not really planning on chasing down more. (My plan is to submit to events I’ve never taught at before, just to see what’s out there, and possibly choose to ::gasp:: attend a few new things, too.) I have enough money to pay my bills and just a little extra to have a nice day now and again. I have the ability to focus on doing a little more work from home when I need more scratch, and a little less when I don’t.

Except for the all the follow up doctor’s appointments and the regular medical merry-go-round, I really don’t have a lot of reasons I have to leave the house. I mean, I love my friends and will want to see them from time to time, but there’s something to be said for the fact that we looked really hard to find something in the much more accessible city of Frederick, only to end up in the much more out-of-the-way city of Hagerstown. A casual trip to Baltimore or DC would be much more of a drive now than it was before, and we really only have a handful of friends who live less than 30 minutes away from H’town. On top of that, we found a tiny little complex that’s mostly meant for senior citizens (who were cool with us moving in when they found out I was disabled), so I expect our neighborhood to be quiet and respectful as well.

After the crazypants monkeyhorseplay that was 2012, the idea of spending a year in sacred contemplation sounds absolutely, well, divine to me. I know it scares some of my closer friends and lovers, because I do have a tendency to cocoon away from the world and not notice how long I’ve been gone until someone comes in and pulls me back out again. But I will have to find a balance, because I need this time of quiet, stress-free thinking and feeling if I am going to truly figure out what happened to me on Dec 28th.

I know many people are waiting with somewhat baited breath to hear about what happened to me and why it was decided that I was to return to the land of the living, but unfortunately it’s going to take me some time to piece it all together. Instead of something like having a dream, or even a living/waking experience, it was more like I came to in ICU with a head full of foggy memories that weren’t there before, even though I didn’t have the physical connection to those memories. I am fumbling at words here, and most of the examples or metaphors I would use might only serve to confuse the matter. For those of you who have had ecstatic trance experiences, or dissociative episodes, or perhaps even possessory experiences when you were the seat/horse, it kinda felt like that – like you’ve come back to your body, and you know it’s seen and done things that your consciousness wasn’t present for, but every so often something triggers a memory, a foreign thought, that feeling of being right on the tip of your tongue but not quite there.

Luckily, Rave was at my bedside and ready to jot down notes of the things I remembered in the immediate hereafter, when I was still in ICU and hadn’t yet fully realized what my brush with death was. I just had all these memories that both did and did not feel like they belonged to me. Like I said earlier, I’m grasping at words and failing quite a bit.

Over the next few days, I did some talking to various mystical types who were able to just listen to what I had to say and give their insight when they had any. I know when I get to the new place and set up my altar, some of the images will coalesce. When I get time to journal freely, and to get back into a meditative practice, and do all the shaman/spirit worker type things I have been putting off for a while now, it will all come into view.

So for now, I leave you with two thoughts based on my Journey:

1. Everything you do is a choice. You may feel like you have no say, like it’s the proper thing to do, that it is required of you, but in the end, the only things you have to do is “stay black and die!” (-Joe Clark, Lean on Me) That is, everything that is outside of your autonomic system is a choice. Spend a day being conscious of all your choices, every one. Do you always drink coffee that way, only because it was the way your mom drank coffee and so that made sense to you? Do you have to be someone’s girlfriend just because you slept with them last night? Do you know why you chose not to shower today, why you put your hair up, why you were mean to your coworker? Think about it, and become painfully aware of every single choice you make, and wonder what would happen if you fell out of step, made a different choice, went in a completely different direction?

2. Every time I go into surgery, I get a song stuck in my head. I have no idea why this was the song of my panniculectomy, but it was also heavily used as the background music for my Ordeal. It is “Pumped Up Kicks” by Foster the People. It is about school shootings, so that you’re trigger warning.

I like this second version a little better; and yes, I first heard this song on The Voice. Sue me.

 

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Remote Support for Surgery: Part II

December 27, 2012 at 12:12 pm (Death and Dying, Living, Spiritual, The Panniculectomy) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

This is for people who are more inclined to working with Deities and spirits rather than physical healing.

Here is the core of the visualization, written by my friend Hugh:

INTENT:
to convince Her that Del can, will, and should be healed and strengthened in body and in spirit by this process (making him more useful to Her on both sides of the veil), and that his work while embodied has been valuable and effective, and will be supported by his tribe. This is something to be laser-clear on, and should hover over/pervade everything.

1. Ground, center, create sacred space. Do whatever you do to get into a prepared and safe space for working.

2.Visualize the lock and hold the image in your mind throughout the working. I’ve put the pic up on Flickr for reference: http://www.flickr.com/photos/19489165@N00/8299095150 I will have the physical lock with me. Start the chant I came up with earlier and keep it going through the working if possible:

This is the lock and Del is the key
Safe is what we need him to be
Safe return to flesh and bone
Safe return to hearth and home
We need his work, we need his art
We give him aid from hand and heart

3.Respectfully address/invoke Hel.

4.Visualize the rune Ehwaz and the journey that Del has taken and is taking (both spiritual and health-wise).

5.Visualize the rune Ansuz and the ordeal/trial that Del faces.

6.Visualize the rune Sowilo and the valuable and powerful things that Del can do only if he is incarnate in a physical body. If he’s done such things for you or friends/loved ones/etc. in the past, that’s good to include.

7.Visualize the rune Fehu and what you are willing to do to support Del’s Work; how you will help Del to want to keep living and do the Work in spite of everything.

8.Cycle back to step 2 as many times as needed.

9.Thank Hel for Her time and attention; release sacred space and ground and center again. Do whatever you need to do to come back safely.

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Book Review: Dion Fortune’s Book of the Dead (Crossposted)

October 25, 2012 at 7:26 pm (Death and Dying, Living, Spiritual) (, , , , , , , , , )

I am crossposting this on both of my blogs, since the subject matter is germane to both of them in different ways; I have different subscribers on both blogs, so I wanted to make sure no one missed it.

Dion Fortune’s “Book of the Dead”
published by Weiser Books
Amazon link: Book of the Dead

This book, which is probably better called a “pamphlet” at it’s very short 77 pages, was originally published in 1930 under the title, “Though The Gates of Death”. It’s not usually listed among her works due to its brevity, but I was lucky enough to stumble upon it while searching for new books to read on my Nook. This version was originally published in 1995 by the occult group she founded near the end of her life, “The Society of Inner Light”.

You’ve maybe heard of her before, because she was a strong influence on authors and occultists who created the Pagan traditions and thea/ology that we take for granted today. Diana Paxton and Doreen Valiente both credit her writings as a go-to when they were beginning what we now call Wicca. She’s also written one of the best books ever on the subject of psychic self-defense, titled “Psychic Self-Defense”. That is a book I frequently make students read and digest.

She was very active in the burgeoning occult underworld in the 1920’s and 30’s. Interesting to me, she had a nervous breakdown and went into a psychiatric institution right before she began having psychic and other magical experiences (madness path, anyone?). She studied various occult systems, including Crowely’s Golden Dawn, the Freemasons, and the hottest parlor religion, Spiritualism – a form of Christianity that held strong beliefs about being able to contact and interact with spirits of the dead and astral travel. She was also a “lay psychotherapist” (not far from what I do, sometimes) who had taken classes on the roles of psychology and psychic phenomenon from the Theosophists. And if that isn’t cool enough, there is scuttlebutt that she was one of the occultists the British government employed during WWII.

Needless to say, I was thrilled to find an E book version of her Book of the Dead. Working with spirits of the dead, and traveling to various other planes of existence, is something Ms. Fortune was very well known for. I was eager to hear what her thoughts were on the process of dying, and what the living can do to assist the dying in their crossing over.

These are the two things that the book focuses on the most – what the body and soul go through when one begins to die/what the soul can expect upon severing itself from the body, and what the living can do to assist the dying in making a gentle transition from life to death.

The first place that felt like a slap in the face (there were a few) is that she very strongly felt that there was no way that “natural death” could occur before “three score and ten years” (70). She explicitly states that dying from disease was not a “natural death”, because it meant that you were less than vigilant with your body. I believe this, like some of the other things I strongly disagree with her on, is a product of her era. This was before cancer was really known or understood, and although there still lingers some attitudes that some cancers are the patient’s “fault” (lung cancer, I’m looking at you!), I think our society’s view on those who contract terminal illnesses has radically changed since the 1930’s.

She describes three stages that a soul goes through after the last breath is released. The first is the disentanglement from both the “clay body” (your physical form) and the “etheric double” (how you envision yourself when you’re not looking at your body, basically). This can be assisted by those present at this stage by attempting to connect telepathically with the dying and give them permission and encouragement to move on. Also, having a source of prana (energy) present is useful – thus, the tradition of lighting candles and spreading flowers for the dead. Otherwise, the dying may use the prana from someone present, which she says explains why loved ones who suddenly feel tired shortly after the last breath have no explanation for it. I don’t know if I buy that entirely, since I know there’s a release of stress and energy when you know someone you’ve been sitting with is finally dead, and that might be confused for “stolen prana”. But it can’t hurt to have a good source handy if you’re sitting vigil for someone.

The second phase she calls “Purgatory” (remember, she was still seeped in Christian framework, even though she was an occultist). Supposedly, the soul is shown visions of their unrealized or unsuccessful desires. She talks about Karma a lot in this section, but I wonder if she only uses this term because it was the one accessible. The soul either has to overcome its attachment to these desires and failures (and thus move on to become a Master on the Higher Planes) or be reincarnated in order to live out another life to learn how to overcome them. Interestingly, Fortune states that while souls are in this phase, which starts “a few months after death”, they are not contactable, and cannot hear the summons of their loved ones on earth.

The third phase, “Heaven World” depends on what the disposition of the soul is – it can either ascend and become a “higher being” – a soul that assists in God’s work, or works with other freshly dead souls, or some other purpose – or you prepare to be reborn into a new incarnation. There is a time between phase 2 and 3 where a soul may be communicated with again, but Fortune warns that if you continually contact a soul in this phase, or bring them to mind/heart on a regular basis (like on their birthday, or an anniversary), you may be inadvertently keeping them from moving forward. If the departed does not feel like their old life is sorted, and their loved ones can move on and live their own lives apart from them, they cannot either ascend or be reincarnated. This meshes with some of my experiences working with dead who have been trapped due to similar circumstances.

I found many of her insights incredibly interesting, especially her thoughts that those who are psychically or magically aware have a much different death experience from those who are unused to fairing forth from their earthly bodies. She gives very veiled references on some exercises one can do to make that transition easier, and to retain consciousness during these processes. She attributes that most people cannot remember past lives, or what the after life is like, because their souls were “asleep” during them, and they attribute the experiences to a dream. She points to those who have a good handle on who they were in past lives as being more magically gifted in one way or another, because they are closer to becoming “masters”.

However, there was some stuff in there that I just found wacknutty. As I posted on Facebook, she states forthrightly that if a soul is severed from their body traumatically, like in a car accident, that soul will find itself inside the body of a baby about to be born. She claims that it is old midwives wisdom that if a baby is born with “old eyes”, it will die prematurely. Yes, she says that the traumatically severed soul jumps into a baby’s body so it can die properly, shortly after birth. I really wonder if she had a friend/friends who had lost children and were looking for some occult reason for it, and this was what Fortune came up with. Otherwise, it just seems too cruel, even for me.

I found this to be a really great read to get me in the mood for Samhain, which I will celebrate this weekend. It made me think very hard about what it must be like for a soul to leave a body and find out that it is more than the flesh, and gave me much to think about not just about where we go when we’re dead, but how we get there. It also gave me some incredible insights on things I can do should I find myself sitting vigil next to someone who is terminal. Some of it is definitely a product of the era it was written in, and there’s a lot of Christianity to translate to your own belief system, but the translation isn’t that hard. (She might have even been using it because it made it easier to publish in that time.) I suggest giving it a read, and it’s super short (77 pages). If you are a Nook user and wish to borrow my copy, complete with my own notes and thoughts, drop me an email and I’d be happy to lend it out.

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Butterflies, Little Deaths, and the Afterlife

October 15, 2012 at 4:32 pm (Death and Dying, Spiritual) (, , , , , , , , , , )

Pagans find ourselves gearing up for Samhain (pronounced “Sow-win”), a celebration of the end of the agricultural year. We also talk of the “thinning of the veils”, when it is easier to reach out to spirits, ghosts, and other sorts of conciousnesses that reside Elsewhere. It is a good time to receive divination, and to reach out to your Ancestors and Beloved Dead.

It’s been a hard year for me, death wise. I lost my grandfather to Alzheimer’s, and two dear friends to an overdose and a motorcycle accident. It’s been hardest for me because I haven’t had the right kind of time and energy to really grieve – this year has been so full of life-changing events, it’s been hard for me to have the luxury of time I can spend just grieving and feeling the absence of those I care about. I am hoping to get some of this when I attend a ritual for the Ancestors/Dead next weekend.

It is timely, in its own way, that Newsweek recently decided to publish an excerpt from an upcoming book by Dr. Eben Alexander, Proof of Heaven, which is coincidentally being released for sale a week before Samhain. I’m sure, since the author is a Christian, this is not on purpose.

However, the excerpt from Newsweek is an incredibly interesting point of view about the Afterlife from a neurosurgeon who, before his own experience, thought that the best stories were likely the random firings of a dying brain, and the worst were invented by someone looking for meaning or attention. He had dismissed the “near death experience” as a scientific concept and moved on.

Then something interesting happened, something that he could not discredit: Dr. Alexander found himself in a coma for seven days, due to a strange manifestation of meningitis caused by E. Coli that had entered his cerebrospinal fluid and began to literally eat his brain. What makes his experience scientifically interesting is that by his account, his “afterlife” experience happened while there was no recorded or witnessed activity in his cortex – the part of the brain that is thought to control thought and emotion, y’know, the stuff that makes us human – at all. This means that he can safely rule out random misfiring or any other heretofore scientific theories as to why humans report these kinds of experiences. He also reports that the doctors were actively discussing discontinuing treatment when his eyes “popped open” and he came back from the coma, with no medical explanation as to his recovery.

Although he describes himself “in the old days” (before the coma) as nominally Christian, his Afterlife experience has only the barest resemblance to the classical descriptions of “Heaven”. If the excerpt is any indication, part of the problem with his retelling is that he’s just too scientific to craft the artistic wordsmithing necessary to describe things such as “the sound was palpable, almost material, like a rain you can feel on your skin but can’t get you wet.” Granted, his larger goal is to try to document his experiences for fellow scientists, so they can start to understand not just the bio-mechanical reasons for his “journey”, but maybe they can also begin to glimpse the world the way Dr. Alexander does now that he has seen things from a greater perspective.

One of the details of his story that was particularly interesting to me was the presence of butterflies. I’ve developed quite the love for the little creatures, and honestly it’s always bugged me. It seems like such a predictably hippie Pagan, girly sort of thing to be fascinated by. One of the deeper drawing points for me is this idea that just when you think you have a handle on who you are and how you relate to the Universe, something begins to change outside of your control and then you have to learn the same damn lessons over again. Eventually, this cycle (like all cycles) leads to death, but meanwhile it serves as a reminder that you should never take your current reality as a given. One can never tell when the cosmic apple cart is headed for a tilt.

I appreciate that symbolism woven into an experience of the Afterlife. The idea that yet again, we’re just undergoing another Hagalaz that leads to fertile ground yet again. We practice dying so many times in our lives, but we never really sit and allow ourselves to think of these things as little deaths. We don’t take time to mourn when our lives undergo large shifts – like getting married/divorced, moving to another location, changing genders, moving into another phase of life – and it’s actually seen as kinda selfish and wrong if the change is seen as primarily a good one. The media is full of examples of heterosexual men being sad before their wedding day due to the radical change of lifestyle that marriage brings, but we diminish it by calling it “cold feet”.

There’s nothing wrong with taking a moment to recognize the little deaths in your life, and especially the big ones, such as my relatives and friends who have passed away in the last few years. I have to accept that as I grow older, friends and family dying will become a more common experience, and maybe if I can teach myself to properly grieve now, it might help me in the long term.

As for what happens to us when we die, I do believe that personal experiences are largely tied to one’s expectations. Dr. Alexander’s experience of angel-like spirits and a large booming voice doling out life advice belies his Christian upbringing. Even if he was only a casual believer before his coma, since he hadn’t done any real exploration of Otherside mythology, he saw and experienced something that relates to his understanding. In the same vein, there are others that describe something akin to the Christian Hell, and I honestly think it’s a residual in their soul, feeling as though they are beyond redemption, that leads them to this journey. We all get the journey we need, and if we need to see big burly Vikings drinking in a big hall, or being touched by the icy hand of a half-dead woman, or paying the Ferryman to cross over into a gloomy cave, in order to feel like we understand where we are, that’s what we see.

I know this from my own experiences dealing with places that contain Spirits of the dead. I was once asked to speak to a Death Deity that I had no experience with (nor really much experience in his pantheon), and once I was given a key that unlocks, for lack of a better term, the Big Gates Of Dead People Land, I saw that there was an infinite amount of space, and people were gathered at different points in this space, sorted by what they envisioned the afterlife to be.

Yes, I know this can sound like a wimpy, pantheist explanation how everyone is ultimately “right” when it comes to where we go when we die (tell me you haven’t heard the joke that ends, “That’s because they think they’re the only ones here.”), but in a way we’re all wrong, too. The vast expanse that is the rest of the Universe, outside of our little spaceship Earth, is too big for the human mind to truly wrap its little brainmeats around. Sound like something else I’ve described before? Yes, when it comes to most things theology related, my working theory is that we grasp onto what works best for us and our understanding of Things and Places way too big for us to comprehend. And yet, all our little brainmeats want to do is to understand, to know for certain that we’re all not headed for a dirtnap decomposition and nothing more. So we try, and we continue to have these near-death-experiences to keep reminding us to meditate, to journey, to divine, to pray, and do whatever else we need to, to prepare ourselves for that time when we face the end of this part of our own existence.

What do you think happens when we die? Have you spoken to spirits of the Dead, and have they given you any answers as to what their experiences have been like? How do you envision the Afterlife? Do you believe Dr. Alexander’s experience is universal?

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You Get The Choice You Asked For

September 27, 2012 at 11:18 pm (Death and Dying, Hospitalizations, Living, Living With Chronic Illness, Mental Health, Spiritual, The Journey Towards Diagnosis) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

Since this whole infection/abscess situation started, I was holding onto a secret. Something I thought I might keep a secret, not make public in any sort of fashion. It isn’t pretty or nice or paints me in a good light in any way. It cuts me to the core, but I have come to a place of peace with it now, so I think it might be safe to start writing about it.

I had hoped that this business was going to kill me.

I am sworn to Loki not to take my own life, and doubly so to Baphomet that suicide is not an option out of my physical struggles. But there I was, a few weeks fresh from being dumped by the person I thought would walk me to death, and I was done. I saw no reason to keep fighting, to keep dealing with the constant pain and suffering this body puts me through. I felt empty and broken, and when it turned out that I had another severe medical crisis on the horizon I honestly thought to myself, “This is the exit door I asked for.”

When the doctors came to me and explained that the panniculectomy is not only necessary, but very high risk, I wasn’t surprised. In a round about way I had asked for this – I had begged Loki for an option to suicide, and here it was being presented to me on a silver platter, just as I had ordered. And as the news hit my other spirit-worker and shamanic friends, without any chance for them to converse on the subject, they were telling me one by one, “You’re going to die during this surgery.”

“I know”, whispered my heart. “It’s what I wanted.”

But then, because they love me and care about me, my shamanic friends start talking about fighting back. This doesn’t have to be a one choice route, but a crossroads, like any other. When they put the mask on my face to put me to sleep, if I know in my heart of hearts that I want to wake up, that I value what I have, that I have drive and focus and the desire to go through the healing process and finish the work (and Work) that I have left on the earth, then I could make that choice.

But I had to have my whole heart behind it, and that worried me.

I’m honestly admitting I was having suicide ideation. Not necessarily killing myself, but that at any moment, the bells and dings and whoops of hospital machinery would go off and I would just slip into unconsciousness: then it wouldn’t matter if my soon-to-be-ex visited me or not, or whether I had the fortitude to see him move on with his life and his loves without me; it wouldn’t matter if I wanted or did not want to continue to see my body deteriorate and become sicker over time, or if I just wanted to slowly lose grip on the run-down beater I feel like I’m driving and become that spirit-self that feels so free, so unencumbered. And there were a few moments, where my blood pressure plummeted and I felt woozy and dizzy, and I would think to myself, maybe this is it, maybe I can let go…

…but it never came. And more shamanic friends came, did divinations or just felt intuitively that I am getting ready to face what could possibly be the second or third gate in my dying process – the choice to go on in the face of the unknown.

A few days after I got home from the hospital, I had a diviner I trust do an extended reading on the crossroads ahead, and he laid it out plain for me – I had to make this decision based solely on my own experience, not my experience of other people or the desire to share experiences with others. I had to commit to seeing this “dying man” route from start to finish, that my curiosity and desire to continue to be embodied had to grow stronger than my desire to give up.

The choice is there. It’s tangible, in every moment I reach out and really allow myself to feel it. I can choose to give up now, to let this be the final curtain, and let the end of the story be the failure of the one relationship I put the most trust and effort into.

Or not. The hardest part of this crossroads, like any good past vs future choice, is that I have no idea what the future will bring. Well, that’s not exactly true; I’ve had a fair amount of divination in the last few months to try to help guide and shape my expectations and desires for what lies ahead. I know that there’s no miraculous cure on the horizon; not even the surgery I face will do much for the chronic pain, the immune system problems, the tuberculosis, the neurological symptoms, etc. That’s all part of this thing that I will be chasing until the day it takes me.

What the divinations have told me, the only information I have to go on, is that as time progresses, I will dive further into spiritual pursuits, do a lot more writing (if “The Bard” comes up one more time I might scream!), hopefully pass along some of my skills to people who will outlive me, and basically become subsumed into a life that dissects between medical chicanery and spiritual Work.

It was also made clear to me that when I make this decision, I can’t do it because of, or for, any relationships or specific people. While I was first pondering all of this, and influenced by my dissolving marriage, I waxed poetic about my philosophy that part of committing to a relationship is the anticipation of seeing where that person’s journey takes them. And yes, I do want to know what the future holds for Rave, Alex, Winter, Carla, Ruth, Lizzie, and other people I hold dear. I want to spend more time with my godsons. I want to deepen friendships and continue to experience the depths and breadths of love that are afforded me. However, this can’t be part of my decision, because if nothing else, my current situation reminds me that all relationships are temporary in their own way. It could possibly be very detrimental to my mental health if I go into this decision thinking of my relationships, only to have one or more of them come to an end in a way that leaves me regretful. That’s a lot of pressure to put on a person and a relationship, too.

In the end, it’s just me and Death, looking each other in the eye and figuring out if I need the chicken door. (When I worked in a haunted house, the “chicken door” was a hidden early exit for those who found the experience too intense.) Because this isn’t meant to be the natural end of my life, but more an option that I clearly asked for.

If it isn’t already clear from what I’ve written, I wasn’t sure what my answer was going to be at first. Well, if you ask Alex, I was probably leaning heavily towards the chicken door when this first came to light. It’s hard, facing the reality of spending focus on ending a relationship I didn’t want to end, and moving forward in a way I had never anticipated. Add to that the knowledge that my body will only continue to hurt and act out against my will, and maybe it’s better to leave now before things get much worse. I sincerely worry about becoming a burden on my support structure – between financial needs, health insurance, emotional needs, logistical needs, it’s not like I can just pick up and start working again. From here on out, I will be living on the kindness of others in one way or another – alimony, SSDI, socialized health care/medicaid, welfare, donations, etc. No person I’ve met is happy with that sort of reality, even if it’s the only one they get.

It was also too easy to see all the negatives. I had to dig fairly deep to find positives about moving forward. A lot of it in resting faith and trust in the Gods, and although you might think that comes easier for me than most, you’d be partially wrong. Part of what shakes me about the end of my marriage is that I had prayed to Frey the day before I met my now soon-to-be-ex-spouse. I always considered him a gift from Frey, and was regularly thankful to Frey for sending him to me. His departure is his own doing – of that, I am 100% certain, in there is no divine hand pushing this through – but it still makes me question my ability to lay blind trust in my interpretation of what the Gods have to say to me. So no amount of divination, mediation, or any other sort of attempt to utilize the strands of wyrd to predict what lies ahead is completely reliable to me.

As time passed, though, and I turned on my “looking for signs and omens” eyes, I started to see a glimmer of a future I could very much enjoy. I am free now to do a lot of things, and pursue a lot of interests, that I had been hampered from in the past. One way or another, I won’t have to sacrifice my body in order to earn a living (the upside of the whole ‘being a burden’ issue), and that also means that I am free to pursue hormonal transition, living life in a less gendered expectation, and having a lot less pressure to be able to slip into heteronormative mode in times of need. (*My* family already thinks I’m a professional weirdo, and they already know about my intent to take testosterone, so I don’t need to hide that sort of thing from them; I just don’t have to put on the “good wife” drag for someone else’s parents/coworkers/children.) I can see myself pursuing differently-structured relationships – there’s a whole post brewing on why I’m done with the whole concept of marriage – in a way that works more naturally for me. I have a strong family-of-choice who understands that should I choose to live, I will need their emotional support, and they’ve been quick to tell me that they’re ready and willing.

I can see it, a year from now, two years from now. It isn’t perfect, but it’s not terrible either.

So a week ago, I chose. It was odd. It was late at night, and I was having one of those heart-to-hearts with myself about the whole matter, after having a lengthy divination done on the subject. I thought about death, and about what giving this all up would mean, and I just decided I wasn’t ready. I look forward to what the future holds, even if it’s radically different than the mere glimpses I’ve been able to discern.

When I chose, I felt it. It was as if the door to Death closed a little more. See, it was made clear to me that I’m still going to die, but that something will happen to bring me back. For years now, Raven has been trying to convince me that I was walking a Death Shaman’s path, and I think this is the final door in that process. The surgeons have been clear with me, that this is a risky surgery with a lot of potential problems, and it’ll only take one thing going wrong for everything to change.

However, I’m also prepared to be wrong, and that I will actually die from this surgery. When I felt that energetic shift after I made my choice, it was as if I had also come to peace with the other option as well. It’s not what I want, but if it happens, I’ll be okay with that too. I accept the consequence of asking for a chicken door, and if Loki decides to push me out, it’s nobody’s fault by my own. Also, surgeons are humans who make mistakes (boy howdy) and maybe there won’t be some big divine moment as much as my apnea will just take my breath away; or my blood pressure will plummet to suboptimal levels, or a surgeon’s hand will tremor and nick the wrong thing. I’m looking at these last few weeks before I go back to the hospital (I get a date sometime next week) as a chance to come to a place of resolution about the life I have already lived. Because I know that when I come back, it won’t be the same.

In that way, no matter what happens, something about me will die in that OR. I don’t rightly know what, but I’m sure I’ll feel it one way or the other. There has been some speculation as to how things will change, but I’ve decided not to worry about that until the time comes. I figure it won’t be hard to miss. I might not feel it when I wake up in recovery, but as I try to resume life as I know it, I just know that it will be like my last transformation – I’ll reach out to something familiar, and it will taste of ash. It will have been burned away, like so much of my life in NY had been. I’m definitely looking into a few logistical changes, like where I live, as something that might end up changing permanently once again. I may lose spirit companions, or be repurposed in some way, or find hobbies and other distractions that are core to me simply lose their fascination. I never thought that having gone through one shamanic transformation would be a good thing, but in this case it gives me some idea as to what may happen when I emerge from this chysalis.

So that’s one of the big secrets I’ve been sitting on in regards to my current situation. It’s why I haven’t been as present online as I normally am; I’ve taken a large amount of time to think and journal and meditate and talk and look for omens so I can figure out what I want out of this opportunity.

I want to live. Let’s hope that’s what happens. As I like to say at the end of every will-working, “this or something better for the good of all concerned.”

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