The Reaper’s Handmaiden?


Darkness and light

Artist unknown:  I will change this caption to properly credit them when they are identified.

I picked this title because it sounded beautiful when it passed through my train of thought like a beautiful woman who walks past you only once while you are on a journey.

I used to read everything written by Caleb Wilde (no relation) on his blog “Confessions of a Funeral Director”  I never met him personally, but he’s rather local and would correspond pretty well before he became incredibly internet-famous.  Honestly, I have learned more about death from him than I believe was ever covered in my entire religion and philosophy curriculum in college…and for that, I am grateful.

But at the same time, I must admit I feel very out of sorts and a bit awkward in this current place in my life.   I live on a road of elderly veterans, this street was created specifically for injured servicemen returning from World War II and the Korean War in the late 50’s to 60’s.   Ed and I get along very well with our neighbors and we have one of those very rare local-community network feeling of mutual kinship and respect.  I love that about Exeter.

However, with that- comes an entirely unusual scenerio that college never prepared me for.

What do you do if you are the only legal clergy person on your street, everyone knows you are clergy, you are trained in grief-counseling, but still feel nothing but anxious butterflies in the stomach each time another neighbor dies?  Like an automoton, I quickly finish whatever personal thing I am doing (in this case, walking Ziu), then I meet the family at the door.  They invite me in.  I make sure they called 911 and all blood family.

I wait for the police and more lucid family members to arrive while I stay with the bereaved.  I help them find lists of doctors, medications, as well as ask if they knew if there were funeral arrangements in place by the recently deceased, and with whom, have them write down the law offices in any mail from the return addresses to call when needed.

And yet, all of this sounds so formal and professional to type out- but in real life I had Ziu on my left arm and I was wearing Ed’s batman pajama pants.  The police didn’t even laugh at me as embarrassed as I felt…and yes, apparently, I realized I can experience embarrassment. (I am wearing black yoga pants now-just in case)

I always tell the family I will check on them-  I bring food (if they need it), and I give them my number if they want to talk.  In my neighborhood, they know where I live.

But it still feels so enormous of a responsibility.  Someone has just died- and the next 48 hours is when the very most seems to be expected out of the families of the dead:  And it feels to me like the expectations are overwhelming, confusing and difficult even to someone who is not the bereaved- to the grieving, it’s a mountain that takes months or years to cross.

I am proud that I was the first person who was there for my neighbors today- but at the same time, I feel a little ungainly, ungraceful, and incredibly unrefined when compared to those in their perfectly tailored suits who work in the funeral industry as their paid profession, and even in comparison to other Chaplains I know.

Very rarely I visit a hospital or hospice for someone, but it happens once in a while.  There, I do not have to worry if the person dies.  They are already in a facility that processes them through with factory precision.   If I am in a hospital I am wearing a black dress with either purple or blue: and all of my dresses can show at least one Heathen tattoo, even if I have to wear my hair up to show the rune on the back of my neck. (if the person asking for me is Christian I wear my hair down and long sleeves).

My family does not wear the Mjollnir, so I do not- but I have and will bring a mjollnir necklace as a gift for anyone in the hospital.  Depending on the situation I either wear a classy formal necklace of no particular religion or a fox necklace.

In the hospital- I look like every other chaplain.  Conservative, wearing mostly black with some color to not look too “reaperish”.

But I think I am pretty sure I am walking this strange path that should be so much more familiar to all Heathens than it is- death at home.

My neighbors are of all sorts of religions- the man who died today has many pagan friends- but was agnostic.  I was happy he had made funeral arrangements…because I barely know the local funeral homes and I feel my “strangerness” acutely to equal measure as I feel like a prodigal child from a family line that abandoned our homeland- welcomed back warmly, but out-of-sync still with all my second cousins and distant relatives as we get to know each other better.

The oddest things keep happening to me- my family has always had a chaplain, and before me it was my uncle who moved away… my second cousins out here seem to see it as a “natural thing”- like having a clergy member in family is a sort of return to a form of normalcy or something that used to be here, wasn’t, and now is again.

I don’t think a person can be truly a Heathen without feeling some sort responsibility and compassion for blood relatives.  Look, I hate my mother, there are people I do not respect or want in my life to whom I am related…but I do not feel that because some blood relations have harmed me means that all of them are malicious- usually quite the opposite, they tend to relate better since they share the same relatives I do in many cases and had similar experiences.

Things got weird this weekend when I took a photograph of the rose bush I rescued from my great-grandmother’s house last year to show it was thriving.  I thought it would cheer people up that it was still alive, that, and I also rescued our grapevine which came over from Austria- I sent a text that said “It’s thriving well, you are all welcome to come take cuttings in the summer”….and six hours later I get a call from my second cousin that I depressed my grandfather-  apparently, the day I sent the picture was Nana Helen’s birthday and I had no way of knowing.

Some schools of thought believe synchronicity is the path to follow through a world of chaos- that in synchronicities we find messages from those we call Gods, Ancestors, and our higher selves- I do not know what or which it is, or even if I can even comprehend the strange coincidences that seem to ebb and flow in the stream of my life- but I welcome them like bread crumbs through the woods.

If “coincidences” happen of a significant nature- it gives me a feeling I am on a positive road and doing positive things.

Here’s to hoping I continue to experience profound coincidence and synchronicity consistently.  Ed is also clergy and an actual Helasman, but I am the person who is at home- I appreciate all the guidance I can get in these dark waters…


2 Responses to “The Reaper’s Handmaiden?”

  1. Personally I think it’s amazing that you were able to save the rosebush and grapevine. Old grapevines are priceless as far as my family is concerned.

    I am not formally trained or recognized as a chaplain- though it’s become a common sight along my ever circling wagon caravan of thought (trains move too fast)- but some of this is still familiar to me. I’m used to being the one that friends and family call when they need someone to help them sort out a recent death or minor disaster (and no I’m not equating the two, those are the two different reasons they seem to call me.) I think it is simply because they know I will keep a cool head and work through the painful details with them to make sure that things all get sorted correctly.

    And no, it’s not and probably never will be easy. I don’t think it’s supposed to be.

    I’m glad your neighbors had you there for them. I know it’s a challenge at the best of times, but I do believe that it comes to some of us specifically because it’s a thing that needs doing and it’s a thing we can do.

    • Thank you for your kind words, I just try to do my best and hope I am the help needed, not yet another hinderance!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: