Thursday, 12 January 2012

Keeping Going

If anything makes me want to give up spirituality and just have a quiet life consisting of TV and board games, it's complications in life. When I have a routine, it's not so difficult. I can even make myself get up at 6am most mornings to meditate etc, as long as it's a regular thing I can fit into my regular life. Not when things are complicated. Especially not when they're very difficult.

We've just had a very complicated, difficult four weeks (or so) in this family. The Girl's father died on Christmas Day, after a two-and-a-half-year battle with cancer. I joined her in Israel for the shiva - a Jewish tradition where people come to the house of the bereaved for seven days. It is utterly exhausting. I have an autistic spectrum condition - I don't say this as an excuse, but as an explanation - and spending any amount of time with people can be hard work. Constant exposure to people I don't know, in a not-very-accessible house, for twelve hours a day, for seven days, was utterly exhausting. Which is a very 'me me me' response to the situation, but that was how I felt. I'm not going to pretend I'm better than I am, or that I was a fantastic supportive wife and was completely there for my Girl. I am not and I was not. I found it very difficult. The Girl ended up supporting me more than the other way around. She says it was still helpful to have me around. I hope that's true.

If I have to go without praying and meditating for any length of time, my brain tends to explode, under the best of circumstances. Under the worst, it's difficult. I did manage to do some meditating every day, but I missed my rituals so much. (This was actually a good thing to experience. My druidry and other Pagan practices are becoming integrated into my spiritual life, which is great. I want it all to be seamless, though. I'd also like to be less affected by other people's emotions in these kinds of circumstances. I think anyone would be, but I was literally disabled by it for most of the week. I often am. Much to learn.) But I meditated, and my gods were there.

All of that said, I can see the value of something like a shiva. Everyone in the family said they appreciated it while simultaneously hating it. We don't have much in the way of rituals in the post-Christian UK. If you follow a religion (which only applies to a minority of people here), you do what that religion does in relation to death. Western Christianity just sort of stops after the funeral, though. We don't have many traditions associated with bereavement. I feel like ritual around death must be even more lacking for Humanists and atheists, although that's probably a misperception from my lack of understanding of those belief/non-belief contexts. But it seems like there's less and less for the growing 'no religion' group to do around key moments in life. How do Pagan communities meet to celebrate life and remember the dead? I don't mean the long-dead ancestors, I mean people who died last week. Are there funeral structures? I honestly don't know. My wedding was Christian. I wonder what my funeral will be like.


  1. Wandered over from Inciting a Riot... I also had a basically Christian wedding, but my covenmates were in attendance and I am a Christian-flavored witch. My experience of officiating at a funeral for a family member of a Pagan was... entirely Christian because the deceased had been Christian. That said, the bereavement part is very individualized in my corner of the Pagan community. Not that we are isolated, but that it is about what the surviving family members want. Often a time to bring food, gather and listen to stories about the deceased's life or just to hear the person out and maybe discuss private rituals of mourning. Samhain can also be an opportunity to grieve in community and honor the ancestors. I think that bit's important because all too often the loss stops being acknowledged by others long before the hurt stops.

  2. Hi Grace - sorry it's taken me such a long time to reply! Your thoughts on the more individualized or small-scale aspects of bereavement in Paganism are interesting. I think you're right about Paganism going further in honouring the ancestors than some faiths do, or at least further than modern society does. I'm just starting to do ancestor work, and it has amazed me how much I hadn't dealt with some bereavements in my life, because modern (secular) society doesn't seem to have much interest left in ancestors (or, perhaps even more worryingly, in older people at all).

    In terms of bringing food and talking about the deceased's life etc... that sounds very much like the Jewish shiva that I discussed in this post. I think lots of faiths do this kind of thing well. I wonder if it's more our secularized society that doesn't have a structured way of helping the bereaved. There's no reason why it shouldn't be able to - it just doesn't.

    Interesting thoughts you've inspired there - thanks!