Two days have passed since Maeve died of cancer. I’ve gone in and out of waves of grief. These are always hard times, for the living to make sense of death like this, hard for me I know.
I want to honor and reflect the essence that Maeve is, and I’ll put it in the present tense, for she has left her body but her spirit lives on in so many ways. This is my work right now, feeling the anguish of her loss and enlightening it with the meditation of purpose.
I wrote that she is my sister, and I believe many think that she was my family sister. The grief, which begins in the gut and not the head tells me she was family in the sense of my purpose on the planet.
She was a champion for culture repair and petitioned us to bring the Art of Mentoring and 8 shields to the UK. We worked together for years and created many deep nature/culture experiences to many people in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland and by extension people from all over Europe.
It was not an easy journey and I was always in her corner when she needed support, anchoring, or a good laugh about the follies of humans. Looking back it just hit me that she was tugging on that rope of our relationship, to be in her corner for this next transition.
In the years I knew her she went deep into learning and facilitating rituals for grieving. She saw the potential of what meaning and connection her people would have if they collectively faced their traumas, wounds, sadnesses, together. She studied with Francis Weller who taught about The 5 gates of Grief. Maeve was the first to introduce these to me, from the Wild Edge of Sorrow:
The First Gate: Everything We Love, We will Lose
The Second Gate: The Places That Have Not Known Love
The Third Gate: The Sorrows of the World
The Fourth Gate: What We Expected and Did Not Receive
The Fifth Gate: Ancestral Grief
In this case of losing a light like Maeve feels like entering the first gate…“My grief says that I dared to love, that I allowed another to enter the very core of my being and find a home in my heart.” p25.
My father has always referred to the saying when risk and apprehension dance: Better to have loved and lost than never loved at all.
In that way grief is my flipside of opening my heart to the world, to believing in a connected beautiful world.
But the pain, that knot of despair that has a mind of it’s own, what is this gift? If the story ended here, this would explain the arrested development of everyone forever. Its a natural self-protection. As a survival skill, cultures naturally developed community grieving rituals that scoop you up from isolation and bring you into the fold without denying your truth but witnessing it and bearing it with you. This is the salve thats really missing. Without it, our sadness and losses are not normalized but held against looking good, performing, staying on the clock, the schedule and life becomes isolating and instantly meaningless.
This was Maeve’s pursuit and is her contribution. She studied with Sobonfu Some and Joanna Macey’s Work that Reconnects. In her final years she dug into and lifted up the history of Keening at Irish and Scottish wakes, the role of women wailers, bringing the heart-wrenching sound of grief to the stone-cold breath-held freeze, and melting it into a river of tears. Water is life.
I look forward to learning more and experiencing Keening some day.
In the book “old age” by Helen Luke, the author unpacks the difference between suffering and looking good when grief comes to visit.
“Suffering” is a word used to express so many kinds of experience that its precision of meaning has been lost. The Latin verb ferre means “to bear,” “to carry,” and “suffer” derives from it, with the prefix “sub” meaning “under.” This is reminiscent of the term “undercarriage”–that which bears the weight of a vehicle above the wheels-which is an apt image of the meaning of suffering in human life.” -Helen Luke
To express “I can’t bear this pain”, is a way of intelligently messaging that ‘I am unable to bear this weight alone, my carriage is not sufficient, please help me bear this pain’.
And so we can see how ‘to bear witness’, is to bear this with another and to take up one of the wheels of our collective carriage of grief. For who doesnt have their own unprocessed grief from today, yesterday or ancestrally back there?
The alternative is disastrous to consider. What is the impact through the generations when grieving and death become ‘ugly’, ‘messy’, something to avoid and repress?
“Deeply ingrained in the infantile psyche is the conscious or unconscious assumption that the cure for depression is to replace it with pleasant, happy feelings, whereas the only valid cure for any kind of depression lies in the acceptance of real suffering. To climb out of it any other way is simply a palliative, laying the foundations for the next depression. Nothing whatever has happened to the soul. The roots of all our neuroses lie here, in the conflict between the longing for growth and freedom and our incapacity or refusal to pay the price in suffering of the kind which challenges the supremacy of the ego’s demands.
The ego will endure the worst agonies of neurotic misery rather than one moment of consent to the death of even a small part of its demand or its sense of importance.” – Helen Luke
Extended funeral customs that take place at home, open casket, for days that include vigils, endless days of tending fire and a stream of community members bearing the weight together, are what bond us at the deepest level. Death is our greatest teacher.
From here I want to share with you a reflection from Maeve about a funeral of a friend. As you read and comment and bear this with me I feel connected to my suffering, and yours. Thank you for bearing this with me, witnessing this into soulful meaning of the preciousness of life worth living.
And that is how Maeve lived.
Posted by Maeve a little over a year ago:
July 14th, 2017
To her last breath – ode to Cathy Bache
Yesterday I went to the funeral of my friend Cathy Bache, and it’s odd to say but I left the funeral feeling victorious – seeing that Cathy had done in her dying more than many people ever achieve in their living. She had woven her family and community around her to embrace together the next big adventure of her life – her journey to death.
I arrived to the sound of song, songs sung and loved by her. A big hearted women with tears in her eyes gave me and my three year old son leaves to place on Cathy’s body. Cathy was wrapped in a white shroud, decorated by a blanket of leaves and flowers of our making. I felt thankful for there being no coffin, for seeing the gentle shape of her body, and being able to realise within myself that she really is dead. I needed to see my friends body to know it was true. In that moment she gave me the greatest gift of being able to introduce my son to a life-giving death, a beautiful way of dying, that left him not afraid but curious and held. When his little voice echoed out through the congregation ‘but why is it Cathy’s time to die?’ and ‘will her family put soil on her eyes?’ he was met only with compassionate smiles as I whispered in his ears ‘nobody knows why it was Cathy time to die, but everybody has their time’.
I could feel in the congregation the trust and ease that was there between the different strands of her life, her close family, all the families that had thrived from Cathy’s very pioneering secret garden outdoor nursery, friends from her Buddhist and other spiritual traditions, and the wider circle of folk like me that needed to be brought into the fold of grief and belonging in the circle around Cathy. The hall was made beautiful with wild flowers and greenery, and I saw the community shinning together in their great love and admiration of Cathy – always the first on the dance floor, and first to look deep at herself and this great mystery of life. Cathy was a guiding hand for me, always bringing me back to trusting myself. We shared the power of the vision quest in our lives, and the love of getting all generations into the woods. Before Cathy’s family carried her body out of the hall we were invited to all raise our hands and send our good energy and blessings to Cathy, and to receive back from this collective act of letting our loved one go. I felt the family somehow able to receive our sorrow for them rather than shield themselves from some perceived pity that can be so awkward at times of great loss. And as the tears rolled down our faces I felt Cathy’s victory, and all of our dignity in the great togetherness she had called forth in everyone to her last breath. And a victory for her family who took on the huge task of tending her illness at home, enabling a community designed ritual rather than simply a close family only held ritual and burying her not in a grave yard but a friends woodland she loved.
My dad took my son for a wee walk for during some of the ceremony and Sorley came across a dead pigeon, and immediately got to work wrapping it in leaves ‘to make a blanket like we did for Cathy’. Another child who went to Cathy’s outdoor nursery said ‘ If we need Cathy, we just need to have a fire and talk to her. I know she’ll be there when I need her’.
And so it is Cathy, that in your living as in your dying you have left us wiser, more loving and more connected to each other. Thank you for raising your family in such a way that they could model this most beautiful send off for us all, and especially for my wee Sorley who said today ‘Is Cathy feeding the trees now mummy?’. Yes my love, she is.”
Maeve I’ll honor you at my ancestor feast coming up by sharing your light with the souls of the living, singing for you, listening for you and carrying you in our hearts.
If you care to write messages about her or to her below, please, I welcome it.