With the turning of the year came the completion of a vow made to my brother Seth’s spirit three months after his sudden and tragic death in August 2017, that I would dedicate a year solely to leading community grief rituals and retreats to honour and bless his crossing over to the beach of stars. And so it was that I led twelve sacred grief gatherings in twelve months in ten different cities and rural locations throughout Oregon and California, driving three and a half thousand miles almost 100% fossil fuel free in my vegetable oil powered bus.
Six months before he died Seth sent me this 170 million year old pyritized ammonite in the mail all the way from Wiltshire, England with a note signed from him and my niece Lexi, his daughter, and packaged beautifully in a small black box. Formed from the pressing together of earth and water, the bones and blood of our planet, this little fossil carried the ancient pattern of the Fibonacci spiral on her smooth surface, an eternal symbol of the fractal nature of life found throughout the natural world in the double helix, waves and whirlpools, ferns and fingerprints, petals and pinecones, branches and shells, human ears and spiral galaxies.
This talisman went on to grace all twelve of the grief shrines that were made by those who came to weave precious gifts of beauty and praise with me from their sorrows over this pilgrimage of thirteen dark moons. The markings of geometric growth on this little ammonite told the story over and over again of all our passages through birth, growth, decay, death, and rebirth in the infinite web of life. The labyrinthine pathway circling inward and outward offered a mirror to all the forests and caverns of grief in our hearts that beckon us all at one time or another, and of all the great songs of love that can lead us into and out of the dark.
We came together in spiraling circles of deep belonging to hear and hold our stories of grief; the death of a newborn, the loss of a partner, the despair of chronic illness, the helplessness of a terminal diagnosis, the horror of incarceration, the loss of a child to suicide, homes lost to wildfires, floods, or financial ruin, the scars of abuse and trauma, and the overwhelm at our suffering, unjust, and collapsing world, and to find the universality in our feelings of loss. We offered our grief to the land and to each other as a feast of love and longing, as evidence of our commitment to hold on to our wild souls despite all the efforts of the machine world to keep us from dancing together in the depths of what it means to be fully human.
Together we poured our gratitude into the earth and wove our broken hearts into prayers of praise. The harmony of our voices rose up together in song as we called our beloveds into the circle, wove rainbow tapestries between black oak and maple, danced at night under the singing stars, received the blessings of fading and blossoming moons, drank in the sweet fragrance of sage, fir, rosemary and cedar, swam in the tender silences, fell into unexpected laughter, walked spiral labyrinths on the shore, and watched lizard, bluebird, snake, spider, butterfly, deer, and so many others come to honour us for honouring their world.
In our courage to be with each other in this ancient way - to witness, care for, and attend to each other in the depths of our sorrow, to have each other's backs and trust in what we can create together when we share our broken open hearts and fall back into the larger container of earth, sky, and the elemental forces - we all felt it. We felt the softening that comes, the gentle untangling of our bodies and minds. We felt the sweetness of Surrender and how she comes with such loving kindness when we are willing to be met by her.
We learned that when we tell the truth and keep our hearts open at the same time we make good medicine. That when we honour our grief, overwhelm, and despair in community we remember old ways, reclaim lost parts, forge alliances with elements and ancestors, and metabolize and transmute the fear and outrage that would otherwise add to the suffering of our world. We learned that when we are sincere in our asking a space is made inside for something new to be born, that we receive visions of how to walk in this world, and come home again to the cosmos. That we remember what it is to be human.
So what next? I am listening. Through the spiral of my ear to the spiral of the land. To this ancestor fossil that was sent by my brother to offer guidance, to the sacred geometry of this eternally evolving pattern that holds its essential shape while spiralingl ever-inward as well as out. She told me to carry water to the people and make my peace with fire. Now she is telling me to circle back inside for a while and listen. To tug at the thread of my deepest self and feel into where I am being called. To listen to the dream that was pressed so long ago into the earth of my bones, and that flows on still through the water of my blood.
And she told me to take her back to the ocean. Back to the deep blue sea. To the place where she was born and where she can dream her own dream for another 170 million years while nestled in the arms of our Great Salty Mother. She told me that she did not come to satisfy my longing for earthly attachments, but to be invited to live on in the eyes of my heart. Like my brother. She told me that she came to open my hands and spiral me back around again to life's hardest lesson - how to let go with love what we most want to hold on to. How to let go with love what we most want to hold.
When I die give what’s left of me away to children and old men that wait to die. And if you need to cry, cry for your brother walking the street beside you. And when you need me, put your arms around anyone and give them what you need to give me.
I want to leave you something, something better than words or sounds. Look for me in the people I’ve known or loved, and if you cannot give me away, at least let me live in your eyes and not in your mind.
You can love me best by letting hands touch hands, and by letting go of children that need to be free. Love doesn’t die, people do. So, when all that’s left of me is love, give me away.
~ Merrit Malloy