Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The watching, guiding dogs

The Goddess has many faces. Last year I connected strongly with the Cailleach. In her aspect of destroyer, she is ultimately about transformation. Winter seemed a long time in going but I just had to ride it out.

In this pilgrimage so far, I’ve been to beautiful places; I’ve been to real ho-hum sort of places. Everywhere I have an encounter with her in some way, however fleeting, odd or full on and Technicolor. All of them grow me as a human and bring me closer and closer to who and what I am.

Well I never thought I would meet her with my family. The death of my father brought her to me through animals.

As I right this, I realise, hey this is where I came in! I came to the Goddess through the death of a dear friend; the vehicle was trees back then. So maybe I’m no stranger to her in this place really, even though this part of the journey feels so new for me?

My father who was 84, died last Wednesday after a long illness. I went to sit with him on Tuesday, never dreaming that this would be the last time.

He lay drifting in and out of consciousness, sometimes lucid sometimes confused. I felt helpless as I could do nothing. So I sat and did nothing, just waited and was there.

Quietly, I cast a circle and called my allies. The She-wolf came and moved close to me as she often does when I am feeling vulnerable or afraid.

It came into my head that I should call for help from dogs. And as I thought this, I got a real sense that two dead family dogs, Honey and her son Billy (golden Labradors) had just pattered across the ward and snuck under Dad’s bed. With a certain amount of tail thumping and paw skittering, they settled down to wait and watch.

It was incredibly peaceful. We sat there for a wile, the humans speaking occasionally to each other, the dogs quietly breathing, attentive and still. Eventually I got up to go, and as I turned from the bed, my father said in his habitual mock Victorian way, “goodbye daughter”.

In death, he was neat and serene. His white hair spread on the pillow around his face like a halo. I stood by his bedside shrouded by curtains, the cluttered ward still vibrant outside. Leaning forward, I took his cool hand in mine and opened the circle I had cast the day before. I felt the dogs stir quietly. Silently, I asked them to guide him across the water.

Later, in my mother’s untidy kitchen, the usually bouncy dogs Bella and Truska lay quietly in their beds. Mostly they seemed to doze, occasionally twitching in that doggy way which may mean they were dreaming. Did they know? I don’t know but I got the sense that they were waiting.

In my morning and evening prayer circles, I have been conscious of the dogs, as though heard from a great distance. The space left by my father is a trembling gap that always brings silent tears to me. My throat is sore and I need to roar.

It is hard to remember the mundane and ordinary right now. I mostly sit in a quiet and grumbling oppression. From time to time, my inner fool wants to assert himself. I know he is wise and that mirth is as healing as tears and that I should let him out.

On that Wednesday evening in my mother’s kitchen we sat round the table and planned the funeral. We joked about Dad’s habit of never throwing things away, no matter how broken down they were. We laughed together about the fact that in choosing a green funeral, we are in a way recycling him! And the laughter was soothing.

Death is transformation. In nature, things die back and grow again in spring. Wild flowers and a rowan tree will grow on his grave. The woodland that grows up over his body will in turn feed other living creatures. The natural beauty of the place will comfort those who mourn.

Gently, I feel the old lady’s stiff fingers leading me to a place where I can grow easier with the memory of my father. In planning the funeral together, in responding to what must now be done when a person dies, and in particular in uniting to support our mother, we forge new relationships with each other.

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