The Last Time

It has been a year since I wrote this piece to read at Grief Rites in Portland, Oregon. It has previously been shared only within the grief support group I administer and with my patrons. If you would like to hear me read it along with two poems, join my Patreon.

The sky outside my bedroom window is dark, the first rays of light trapped behind heavy clouds. Only omens come at this hour. As consciousness seizes me, I notice the look on my husband’s face, and the words “honey, its your mom, someone died” flee his lips. What? No. One of the dogs? Maybe a grandparent. Or my dad? Oh god. He thrusts the phone into my hand like some infected thing, and I take it.

Mom? Through the sobs I make out “your sister is dead. Jen is dead” and I sense time and space – of my world as I know it – being suddenly ripped apart. My thoughts scurry away from me as my body freezes. I feel completely dislocated from this moment, the veiled heaviness of the sky obscuring my presence.

I ask “what happened?”, as if my mother, barely able to say two words, would be able to tell me. In the few moments it bought me I quickly shuffled through the cards in my brain, looking for the instructions labeled “what to do if your sister just died and your mother is begging you to fix it”. Nothing. Shit. Alright. Another phrase flashes through my brain: In case of emergency break glass. Air rushes into my lungs, and I quickly ground and center myself. Yes, remember your training, Syren. The mantle of priestess goes on, blanketing my own emotions. I console my mother as best I can, while listening to my father speak to the police in the background. My mother keeps repeating: “she’s dead. I don’t know. I should have done something. I need you here.”

I hang up the phone and look for my husband who is rushing to get ready for work. I grab his arm and turn to look at him – as he puts his arms around me I allow myself one moment of sobs. “We have to go” I say.

Phone calls, internet searches, how can plane tickets be so expensive? clothes tossed into bags, ‘oh gods what are we going to do about the dogs?’ – note left for neighbor. Two hours later and we’re sitting in PDX waiting for our flight across the country. 8 hours. I have 8 blessed hours to breathe, and relax, and find some space within myself before I have to start swimming through miasma of pain and sorrow.

It had been two years since we last saw each other.
I know this, because I left the day before her 30th birthday. And she died two months after her 32nd.

She had talked about how wonderful it would be to have me there to celebrate the big Three-Oh. But I knew that was probably not going to happen. Ten days has generally been the longest I could visit home before things went south, and to stay that long would have been two weeks, the breadth of time from Winter Solstice to her birthday.

It was New Years Eve; my husband, my father, my sister, and a little too much alcohol was bound to be a volatile combination. Some argument about laws and politics, but it could have been about anything. It doesn’t take much to tread old scars, to scratch at barely concealed wounds.

We left the next day, while she sat in her room, barely a word of goodbye.

It would be the last time I went home while she was alive.

A year or so ago, she came into a discussion about racism on my Facebook wall. She quickly derailed, while I did my best to remain calm and compassionate. She spouted off hateful things at me. It was pretty obvious she was in another episode of mental instability. She unfriended me and said she didn’t want to speak to me anymore.

And I was fine with that.

I called it boundary-making. I called it self care. There is only so much familial instability one can handle, so many arguments, so many words flung in a panic of mania and anger. I loved her. But I couldn’t do it.

We didn’t speak again until this February. She called me a day or two before I left for India. She told me she was sorry, that she couldn’t let me leave without saying that she loved me and always would. Sisters are forever.

At least, that is what we always thought.

On March 2nd, a week before she died, she sent me another message. “I love my Sister. She is amazing and I couldn’t imagine my life without her” the meme said. I could feel her uncertainty, her shaking hand holding the olive branch, the simple statement and question: do you still love me? I didn’t know what to do or what to say, I still had so many mixed emotions and I was so busy. So all I said was “cute”.

We will never speak again.

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Eve of the Elections, Precipice of Change. And a new Grief Support group

Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today on the eve of the elections to face our fear and commit our hearts to the work of a better world.

Or something like that.

If you are hoping for something light and inspiring telling you that we have the power to change everything if we wield our magic and our will, you won’t get that here today. I’m also not going to shame you into voting or not voting. If you’re feeling anxious and fearful, that is very real and I’m not going to tell you to make it go away with positive thinking. You’ve been brow beaten with all of that enough. I am going to be honest with you though and share with you where I am and what I’m seeing.

And well, I’m really really worried. I haven’t felt so ominous since the days leading up to September 11 2001. It feels like we are at the top of a roller coaster, having slowly creaked and clacked our way up, and now we know something is coming but we don’t know exactly what – a long drop probably, and a bunch of twists and turns and loops that will leave us confused and knocked around, but hopefully exhilarated at the end.

Whatever happens in the elections isn’t going to change that. It might change the speed; are we on a super fast coaster or an old wooden one? But regardless we have a long and bumpy ride ahead of us. We’ve reached a point of no return and the only way off this ride is through it.

If anything is giving me hope, it is that it seems like more and more people are finally seeing behind the curtain, are acknowledging our political machine for what it is: an elaborate and complex thing that is held up by the bodies of the oppressed, to the benefit of the rich and powerful. We are all being played by the system, pitted against one another, divided and conquered. Capitalism and kyriarchy rules us all.

That isn’t going to change by voting. Never. Two party, Third party, makes no difference. Even the most ideal candidate is vested in maintaining the machine. I’m not going to say voting is pointless, or that not voting is valid protest, but voting isn’t going to save us. No one in a position of power in the greatest Empire the world has ever seen is going to save us.

It really is up to each of us.

Change is going to have to happen on the ground in our communities. It always has and always will. This is why we are so swept up in promises and appearances of change (Obama, Sanders, and H. Clinton, and even Trump) – because real change is hard and we would still rather not shoulder the burden. But I am convinced that whatever way this election goes we are going to have to finally get REALLY REAL about building community and creating change where we are.

Focus your power and your magic and your will on that. Even if you are still vested and believe in the political-capitalist machine as it runs now. We have to figure out how to meet people where they are, where our hard boundaries are and what we will do to defend them, and how to support and be in community with others who are suffering. We have to do this now.

Doing this work won’t take away your anxiety or fear, but it will help. And it is essential to the safety of PoC, LGBTQ people, women, the disabled, the poor, and everyone who is being Othered.

I’ll be working on some more well thought out posts about tools and methods for building community. In the meantime I have two offerings to help us do that:

If you are staying home Tuesday night and want some company as the election results come in, I will be online on a video conferencing platform beginning at 5:30p Pacific time. If you want the link, just contact me or comment here. You do not need to install any software and set up anything.

As I deepen my grief work, I want to specifically focus on the needs of pagans, polytheists, animists, spirit workers, and the like. I have created a Facebook group called Pagan and Polytheist Grief Support as a place for our grief to be heard and witnessed as well as for the discussion of traditions and cultural and community based approaches to death and grief work. Whether it is the result of personal loss such as divorce, the death of a loved one, or stems from disability, oppression, politics, or ecological distress, all forms of grief are valid and welcome.

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Caryatid Bearing Her Stone by Auguste Rodin PC: S. Nagakyrie It seems like we all feel like this right now