Trigger warning: this is a post about death. Religion and death, near death, possible death, and birth in a highly medicalized setting via emergency c-section to prevent death are among the topics. Tread lightly here if these things might upset you.
This is a special time of year – the year is working it’s way down to the darkest point, and here in that limnal space between the dark of winter and the light of summer, the veil between worlds is thinnest.
As Pagans, we know that this is just a stage – the final harvest, followed by a time of rest, and then the cycle begins again. Death is just a part of life. For our family, Halloween is the Feast of the Dead, a time to honor our beloved dead, to send them well wishes and share a meal, and remember them. It’s a time to be together as a family, to circle the wagons and remember our ancestors.
I am convinced that it is not the fear of death, of our lives ending that haunts our sleep so much as the fear…that as far as the world is concerned, we might as well never have lived.
–Rabbi Harold Kushner
And yet…this medically fragile special needs parenting life also means facing death head on, far more frequently than any of us wish. Among the support network we’ve built, there is a death every month or two; a rather unexpected one just in the last few days, in fact. Each one is a reminder of how easy death comes, how it sneaks right in where you are. How it can all be looking up one day, and all come crashing down the next, ready or not here it comes.
Because I could not stop for Death, he kindly stopped for me
This time of year is full memories for us of how close death can be – just 2 years ago, my spouse was struck by a car while crossing the street to catch a bus at the beginning of October, while Acorn was still in the NICU. And on Halloween, instead of putting on his pumpkin costume and taking pictures and preparing to come home, Acorn went into severe respiratory distress and narrowly avoided being re-intubated. Within days we were discussing that he needed to be on a ventilator, and within a week, plans were being made to place his trach.
All of those close calls, so near on the heals of Acorn’s birth that summer.
Birth and death are not two different states, but they are different aspects of the same state. There is as little reason to deplore the one as there is to be pleased over the other.
A few hours before his emergency exit, I called the OB resident in, and told her that there was something horribly wrong, and we needed to change tactics – I was sure I was going to die. While she attempted to convince me otherwise, later analysis showed I was right; that was the tipping point where I slipped from just pre-eclampsia into HELLP syndrome. My kidneys started to fail (and my catheter bag contents went from yellow to brown to cherry red, scaring the crap out of the anesthesia resident), my liver started to fail, and my blood…..well, my blood started clotting in ways that it shouldn’t, like in the test tubes full of anti-coagulant used for lab work, and in the bruises that were blossoming all over my body.
In 2008, every member of my household narrowly escaped death.
It’s hard to get past that fact this time of year. It’s hard to get past death at Yule – the anniversary of my grandfather’s death in 1989, the month of my birthday and the great-grandmother whom I shared a birthday with (who was my source of refuge many a night after school), the month of my spouse’s grandfather’s death. The dark part of the year is a hard one in our home.
Foolish is the man who says that he fears death, not because it will pain when it comes, but because it pains in the prospect
But it is, after all, just a part of the year – it comes, and it goes, just a spoke on the wheel. I don’t know how other faiths handle this part of things – the issue of what happens when we die was a big part of the sticking points that eventually resulted in my leaving the church of my childhood. But I know that for me, being Pagan has meant having a way to put all of this into perspective.
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven. A time to be born and a time to die […] a time to kill and a time to heal
Death comes to us all, and it’s not a bad thing, just another step down the road, another lesson to be learned.
Death is a part of our lives, in a very real way, because of the people we’ve met on Acorn’s journey. More so than many kids, I suspect he’ll have to learn about it early on, because of that fact. But it doesn’t have to be something he fears, and that’s a gift I wasn’t given as a child.
Lo, there do I see my father.
Lo, there do I see my mother and my sisters and my brothers
Lo, there do I see the line of my people, back to the beginning
Lo, they do call to me
They bid me take my place among them in the halls of Valhalla
Where the brave may live forever
–The 13th Warrior
That is the lesson of Samhain – we must see and expierence the dark to really know what light is; they are two sides of the same coin. And as far as journeys go, we’ve hit some dark times, and it makes us appreciate the light all the more.