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Beltane: A Celebration of Life and Death

Beltane – a time of fertility, abundance; a festival of fire. At this time of fertility and abundance, new life all around us my mind is on death. Today is the anniversary of my mum’s death. I was surprised and unprepared for how viscerally it has surfaced for me this year. I feel incredibly lucky to have had the mum I had. It was she that introduced me to the wonders of nature, of the turning of the seasons. We would gather flowers, pick berries, wines and jams would be made. She taught me the flowers, the trees. I hadn’t fully realised until today how strong my link with water is thanks to her. She had a love of the sea, but I hadn’t thought about how when we went walking in the Lakes as children, she would find places for us to paddle in ice cold waters. Time was spent lingering at waterfalls listening to them and feeling their power. Nature is sewn through me thanks to her, the wise words of Carrie Day today and it was mum that taught me to sew. I carry her with me every single day. My life is shaped by her, all that she taught me whilst here and the grief of her death. She shaped me and I continue to shape me into a new life.

In a time when death and grief are swept under the carpet, brushed away. It was good to be held today to be heard, to be witnessed. To know that 30 years down the line there is still space for my grief, for the missing of my mum. Missing having her arms wrapped around me.

We are all too keen to hurry grief along, think someone should be over it. How long is long enough? Our lives are changed forever when a loved one dies. We feel awkward with death, with grief. We don’t know what to say, but often we don’t need anything to be said, we need someone to be with us, to witness our emotions, to witness our grief however it may manifest. I remember at a Shamanic Retreat 10 years ago, someone who is now a very dear friend asked me a question about my mum. I remember my response - anger. I hadn’t realised the anger I was carrying around the death of my mum, but that one question unleashed the anger within me. When we went off to do our work on the land that afternoon I howled and screamed, I released the anger that I’d been carrying deep within and wow it felt good.

Death and dying shouldn’t be a difficult conversation. We need to have these conversations. We need to ask our loved ones what their final wishes are. We need to be prepared to listen to them, all too often when an ageing parents, or friend with a terminal illness tires to talk about their wishes their words are closed off, shut down. It’s important that we listen, that we invite these conversations in. That we make friends with death. Over the years with my study and work as a Shamanic Practitioner I have made friends with death, I have travelled to the realms where loved ones now reside. I have guided clients through to the other realms to help release their fears, to find out where they are going to. To know that their ancestors are waiting for them with open arms. I have held client’s hands as they have sobbed as they have asked for forgiveness and forgiven others. Words that have needed to be said a long time ago finally said. Words spoken at the end of our life our powerful words. Promises that we make to our loved ones about their wishes are sacred promises to be kept; believe me they will know if we don’t!

Death is a Rite of Passage, a transition from this world to the next. Death is the ending of our life in this physical realm and with this our families, loved ones, friends, they too need an ending. There is a rising trend of not having a funeral. I’m not keen on the word closure but a funeral gives this to all of those left behind. I’m not sure what the recent trend is about, whether it’s cost, I know funerals can be expensive, but they don’t have to be. I’ve become more and more aware that often people don’t know that a funeral can be just about anything you want it to be, although if held in a church there are more likely to be limitations. Did you know that if a funeral is held in a crematorium, you can ask them to remove the cross? It’s important to gather together to celebrate the life of the one who has died. I spoke with a friend recently and when someone they knew died all gathered for a meal out. A feast of sharing, sharing of food and memories. Stories told, laughter shared and sadness too.

I was at the Stonehenge Exhibition with two friends last year, as we gathered around one of the exhibits, we began talking about what we wished to be buried or burnt with when we died. I want to take my drum into the next world with me along with some other sacred items. We all began talking about our deaths and our funerals what our wishes are. I really want mine to be a celebration of my life. I would like people to sing and dance. I make no secret of the fact that I’m a big Abba fan and that I want Dancing Queen played at my funeral. You can be sure I’ll be singing at the top of my voice, out of tune as, seeing you all having fun, sharing stories and shedding tears.

Beltane a time of fertility and new life comes hand in hand with death. Just as we bring life in to the world, so too must life leave this world for onward passage to the next. Before we went away for the weekend, we saw a crow lurking on the hedge top, we knew that at least one nest was hidden in there. A while later I went into the garden, fragments of a shattered egg were scattered on the grass. Life is a cycle of life and death. The death of one often giving life to another.

Let’s learn to be comfortable with death and dying. To be able to talk about it, to let our loved ones know our wishes. To write them down. Know that when talking about death we’re not looking for fixes, we just need to be heard, to be listened to. Silences aren’t voids to be filled. Know that how we celebrate death can be beautiful, can be what we want it to be. Inside or outside over food and drink. You can ask anyone you wish to be the Celebrant, to recount stories when you can’t find the words through tears, allow someone else to speak for you, someone that will listen to all your wishes of you and your loved ones. All too often people are erased from a life by not being mentioned at a funeral. I often hear how large chunks of a life are missed out. The person being spoken about is unrecognisable to them. A Celebrant doesn’t have to hold a qualification to lead a funeral, it can be whomever you wish to choose.

Let’s learn to be able to sit with grief, our own grief and that of others. To be able to grieve openly. To shed our tears and not have them closed down. To know that grief can catch us unawares at any time, aromas can be so emotive linked to our limbic system taking us back to a time and a place. The lyrics of a song. Music for many of us is so powerful. Eclectic mixes of music were listened to over the weekend, songs pin pointing important times of our lives. Songs out of the blue that took us back and we knew exactly what year they released, where we were, who they reminded us of and so much more.

Today in a healing session I received a vision of a cauldron with heather, bones, blood and water. An important reminder of how key death is to the work I do. The bones of our ancestors, knowing that we too will all become ancestors. On Saturday I felt like I walked through a sheep graveyard, skulls, bones, bodies at different levels of decomposition at every turn at the top of one of the moors. I was gifted a skull and several bones. I thanked them and carried the skull all the way for the rest of the walk. I learnt today that a ram’s horn is a ritual musical instrument in Judaism.

I invite you to begin to make friends with death, dying, grief.


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