This Shall Not Be!
The pick makes a dull thump as it bites into the frozen earth. The grave needs to be about 3 feet deep. I hope the work will distract me from the night's coming events. Snow dances down from the darkening skies. As I dig, I take out some of my grief, my frustration, on the rocks and roots that thwart me.
Kashi quietly watches me. No questions, no recriminations, just simple love and trust. I wish she didn't love and trust me quite so much. It is her grave I am digging.
I head to the house for a short break, Kashi doggedly follows me. She carefully chooses her steps, painfully hobbling into the house. The lupus has spread into her brain, causing frequent, hard seizures, and into her joints causing arthritis and severe pain with every move. I fall across the bed and she carefully hops up beside me, snuggling - yet not quite touching - to share warmth. I gently stroke her and whisper to her what a good dog she is, how much I love her, how she will delight in chasing Summerland bunnies. We fall asleep together.
Summer arrives home and quietly slips into the bed with us. We surround Kashi with our bodies, our love, our grief. I leave Summer alone with Kashi while I go finish preparations on Kashi's resting place. Summer gratefully sleeps with Kashi, a final farewell. Over time Kashi moves until she is leaning on Summer - need for contact carefully weighed against pain. They stay there for hours, Summer weeps, then sleeps too.
Jil, our vet, arrives. Kashi is too tired to even bark. We sit and talk for a while, Kashi leaning on my knee. It is time. We whisper to Kashi that it is all right as she receives her first injection. Her pain begins to fade and she slowly drifts off into a deep relaxed sleep. We hold and pet her as she receives the second injection. Her heart stops, her body sags into limpness. Despite my best efforts not to, I begin to cry, I sob. We lovingly wrap our friend in Summer's blanket and a white sheet, carefully including her favorite sheepskin bunny. We carry her to the garden and say halting words of farewell before filling the grave. I didn't hear Summer's prayer to the Gods, my heart and mind were too full of pain. I am certain whatever she said was perfect.
It is an empty, lonely house we return to.
It is not fair!
Religion is a source of comfort for questions we have no answers to. It exists to provide us with structure - right now I cannot find any answers to assuage my pain with the death of a loved one. A death complicated by the fact that Summer and I have chosen to end Kashi's life, we were not victim's of her death - we were author's of it. The veterinarian reassures us, explains again the disease, its process. She tells us what a powerful choice we have made - speaks of Summerland. Thank the Mother for a Pagan vet!
In a book I read once, I was struck by a character and her magickal power. She had denied her power all her life, but it finally came down to a magickal duel between ultimate good and evil forces. When it came to the point where things were not to be borne, she reeled in all her power and in one powerful, forceful yell declared, "This shall not be." And, in her world, all that was so wrong and so hideous, was put in its place. All became right with the world. And that which was unwelcome, was undone, reclaimed. What a blessing! And what chaos. Real magick doesn't work that way. It exists in concert with the natural world, not in opposition to it.
While it may not be comfortable, what is done, is done - and now we must deal with our world in all its organic reality - the wheel turns, and we must learn to let our beloved dead move on to their new path, and continue ours. Not so much by forgetting, but by working through the pain, and continuing on so long as our path decrees it.
Pagans experience death somewhat differently from other beliefs. While many authorities are available, it seems that there are differences in the process of loss, death and grieving that are unique to the Pagan viewpoint.
The first area of death and loss for Pagans to deal with is energy. Our loved ones are close to us, they interact with us both in day-to-day endeavors, and frequently in magickal endeavors as well. Their energy and existence is woven into the fabric of our lives. When this fabric is ripped, it is painful. There is a void which aches. Over time these spaces fill in, and there is less pain. There are strategies, rituals, and rites Witches can use to shorten the path of grief. These can be a true blessing, but why do they work?
The traditional guidelines for recovering and working through grief have five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally, acceptance. These stages are so well established that some professionals even become upset if folks don't go through the grief process in the proper order. Yet the traditional stages don't seem to fit with Pagan beliefs. The first phase of the loss and grief process is denial. I find this concept of denial to lack in honor to those good people who are resolving their loss.
To be rational teaches that we will first look at the way something is - an activating event, then based on our knowledge and expectation - our beliefs concerning the circumstances and environment of that event, we will experience certain emotional reactions to it - a consequence.
Habituation is the process by which we physiologically program routines, emotional, intellectual, and physical, into our mental processes. This is not some drone activity which keeps us to an inflexibly held routine, instead it is the same process that allows us to learn to walk and talk at the same time. First we learn to stand, then balance without support, then move forward and stay upright. Later we can do all that while peeling Bubblicious Bubble Gum. As each of these skills is incorporated, we program these abilities, compensating motions, etc. into a habituated pattern stored deep within our minds. These are comprised of many small, independent subroutines. But habituation is a natural, automatic and organic process. Unless we deliberately intercede, its change is an organic process. At its completion we will find peace, in the interim we are a victim of our needs, emotions, and memories.
When you have lived with someone for a number of years you have habits firmly established in your mind - and in your physiologically programmed psychology. For 17 years I have called my mother at Christmas - each December I tend to reach for the phone. I have had seventeen years of mental processes, appropriate feedback, and great rewards from this conversation with my mother. Yet, she has been gone now for more than 6 years. It took me five years to lose the urge to call and chat with her.
So, when I come home - my mind has a reliable experience that my dog is likely to greet me at the garage door. That is normal and will occur. Yet, today, after seven years, it doesn't happen. That's not too disrupting, because there was only a 50% chance that it would occur. However, when I step into my back yard there was more of a 75% chance that my dog would be nosing at the door, greet me with that absurd grin that seems to say "Oh, it's you! You're back!!!"
This is not denial. Our minds simply operate in a certain way and I am offended that we are accused of being somehow defective creatures with weak wills because we don't instantly keep track of all the little facts, that after years a situation has suddenly and irrevocably altered. Of course this is painful. We have to do internal work on a variety of levels to effect these changes.
Relax. It is going to take time. If it took me seventeen years of phone calls to mom to make that a real, normal and constant experience, it will take me a lot longer than 3 or 5 years to give it up. It is not wrong, or weak not to get that information straight in one month, six months, or even a year. There will be wisps of pervasive memories. It will take time. Yet, I believe we can become more deliberate in how we experience and resolve grief.
Now according to the popular models for grief resolution, after we get through denying our loss, we will then become angry. But, unlike all the guides and authorities, Pagans are not angry, not mad, our first instinct was not to deny the reality of our situation. Why is that? Why are we different?
Pagans believe in internal, not external, deity. That which is divine, is as much us, as it is everything else. We believe that the entire world and its inhabitants work in a natural concert. Thus, there is no one to be angry with. There was no agency responsible for our friend's illness. And there was no angst in deciding that her best path was to change paths now. We simply miss her dreadfully, and shall for some time to come. Anger is a response to fear. Fear of loss, fear of pain. Pagans are better equipped, with their world philosophy, to integrate and experience pain as a part of the entire experience. That which does not kill us makes us stronger - trite, but true. And if we grasp internally the concept of triumphing over pain with our love, and appreciation for everything we have and have experienced, rather than focusing on what was lost, then we glory in our lives and move on to new beauty.
The next step most people experience is bargaining. Bargaining with the powers that be for release, return, whatever, of the object of their grief. Please bring them back. Please let me suffer instead of them, etc. Again, this is not a stage available to one who believes in divinity incarnate and a world of interactive players. There is reason, and there is chaos. And sometimes - indeed most of the time - shit just happens. So, there is no bargaining - unless you count the occasional hope that this time passes quickly, and the pain lessens. There may be an occasional desire to step back in time and better appreciate what you had. A healthy mind will challenge any real obsession with the past. However, that is often tempered with a hope that we in no way lessen the love and power of the relationship now severed. Most of us experience the entire process, and do not shorten it through process of ritual.
As we adjust to a new environment which no longer contains our friend, our wife, husband, mother, father, we have gone through the process of disentangling the lines of energy we were so familiar with, perhaps dependent on. We damp down pain at our loss. We redefine our world and are developing other interests to fill our time and lives. Yet, we are different - forever changed. That can be positive or negative. If we do not claim this and grow through it, we will experience depression.
Depression is seen as a natural stage to go through. Depression does not fit into the Pagan paradigm as well as other philosophical models. Depression is a natural adjunct to being the victim of an unfeeling world which imposes its actions on you. Since you have no choice and no opportunity for input, you withdraw, turn your frustration into an acknowledgment of helplessness, and experience depression. Some Pagans are concerned when they do not go through this step. They worry that they did not feel deeply enough. That's not it. We are not less. But Pagans see themselves as part of the whole. They have agreed to play the game called the Wheel of the Year, The Cycle of Life. Witches are not victims, but authors and co-conspirators, in the mysteries they have chosen to experience. Wiccans, not only are not broken by death and grief, they are enlarged and empowered. Now, we know the full cycle of birth, life, death, rebirth. Now, am I tempered by grief and true knowledge of life. Now, I have sufficient knowledge to help others through their trials. And I am not only surviving, I am more than I was before, I am Divinity in its full trinity.
Thus we move to the final stage - acceptance. In any group this would be a stage where we have begun to pass through the stage of expecting to see our beloved. And we have integrated their memory into our lives in such a way that we carry forth all that was valued, and release the pain. This can be a gentle positive process, or a bitter and defeated one. Acceptance based on helplessness is not empowering, although it also tempers one's inner self. One learns not to fight fiercely for that which is good. One learns that frustration is inevitable and painful, never to be relieved by the reclamation of they who you loved. In Paganism, we all have a definition of this full spectrum of life which allows us to integrate the good without having to define the process of death and loss as bad. Organic processes contain both the growth, and the breakdown of life into its other components, which will recombine into other forms of life. The cycle is never ending, natural, and somehow reassuring.
Paganism provides us a framework around which to drape these losses and memories, without guilt or failure. And it provides hope in a way that only re-incarnational beliefs can solace - our loved ones, our selves, our world, will be back, will return, will continue in the ongoing dance of life, death, transformation and rebirth. In the parlance of the new grief process, we reinvest in the new reality. This idea is very Pagan in concept. Yet, it is not necessarily a new reality, so much as a new view of it. We don't have to replace our loved one. That's not possible. Now we have to decide to see and experience the value of others, to take in hand another tool. No, we can't go back, we are forever changed, but we are not lessened.
As I bury my friend, I give her back to the world of possibilities. She will become part of the whole once again, and have new choices, exploration and accomplishments. I will miss her - that hurts dreadfully now. Later I will integrate Kashi and this experience into my life and the tapestry I share with others on our path. Nothing is ever lost, it is only transformed.
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