I knew, somewhere deep inside—had known since the night before. I smothered the sense of that knowing until I came home from work to face the accusatory blinking red light of the phone. Mia was gone, the ninety pounds of her unable to endure another day.
I did not trust myself to call her spouse, who had said that all that “they” could do for her was make her comfortable while waiting for the cancer to overwhelm itself and her life. After all, twenty-three years of fighting it off… the classic “courageous battle with cancer.”
He had been right, I suppose.
Being right is highly overrated.
Mia was 69 years and two weeks old. Didn’t even get the biblical threescore and ten, which seems enormously unfair for someone so feisty and fun with so much hard work under her belt. She is…
Five years ago in August, my Oma, my mother’s mother, passed peacefully beyond the veil.
She had been sick for 4 years at that point. They didn’t find out it was leukemia until the only option was palliative care. Moving into hospice care was really astounding for her — here she could ask for pain relief, and she would receive it. Finally, after four years of hell — after four years of asking us to help end her life — she could be in peace, pain-free, in her final days.
I don’t actually remember the exact day she died. It was a whirlwind few days of getting the call, packing a bag, rushing to make the last ferry, driving down to Nanaimo, catching the early morning ferry the next day after a couple hours sleep on my couch at the place I was set to inhabit as soon as I could leave mom’s place, where I’d been watching things while she spent time with her mother at the hospice — all so I could see Oma’s body, and say goodbye before she was cremated.
Death isn’t real to me until I’ve seen the body. It was true when Blue died, and it was true for Oma too.
The grief came in waves, weirdly hitting me at inappropriate times. The truth was, we’d been grieving her for four years already. She’d come so close to Death’s door so many times in those years that we weren’t really convinced it had actually happened when it finally did. The Thanksgiving after we sat, sadly with Opa around the table, and I kept expecting Oma to wander down the hall in her short-stepped walk, remarking on the good smells from the kitchen, and how lucky she was to have a daughter who would cook for her.
I still sometimes expect to hear her voice in a phone call. And today, I got the urge to call her and wish her “Happy birthday, Oma!” She would have been 98.
In her final hours, she kept asking my mom if she’d been a good person; if Mom thought she would get into heaven. We didn’t really realize how deep her religious streak went, as she’d sort of removed herself from religious identity once she met Opa (a staunch anti-theist). “Of course you will, Mam, of course,” Mom replied, and she was 100% honest. We both believe that. Whatever the afterlife holds for our non-Protestant souls, if there even is one, we truly believe Oma made her way into heaven, and that she truly deserves the happiness that afterlife brings her.
Whatever your heaven is like, Oma, may it have lots of chocolate and books (including mine, which was published a year too late for you to see it — I know you’d be proud). May you be able to keep up on the achievements of your loved ones, and may you stick your chest out with pride in that way we always found incredibly embarrassing but also very endearing. May your pains, physical and emotional, be eased; may you be reunited with those you lost. May you sit with Gerry and Jake and Gerry’s first wife and Ariel and play Scrabble or Mah Jongg, and may the rules be adjusted so everyone can have a good time; may you laugh and talk about your long lives together, and apart, and may all jealousies be eased; may death bring friendship in unlikely places. May you be greeted by Ariel and Jake when you arrive, and may you get as many chances as you need to tell your daughter how much she means to you; may you get as many chances as you need to tell Jake everything you wanted him to know.
And if your other loved ones get different afterlives, may there be a good transit system so you can all visit each other.
I love you, Oma. I will never stop missing you, or thinking about you. I hope you know that, and I hope you know how much you inspired me, and how I wouldn’t be as successful as I am if it weren’t for you.
For you, Oma, on today, your birthday, your Ancestor Day — for you, I say my prayers to my Lord Manannan, that you are watched over and loved, and kept cherished and safe, in death as we tried to for you in life.
10 years ago my dog BlueSky died. She didn’t die on Canada Day, but I was away and didn’t get the message until Canada Day that it had happened, so that’s the day I associate with her death. That’s her ancestor day.
Today is for Blue. Today, I know she’s in a happy place, beyond the rainbow bridge; I know Manannan took her gently, and I know He watches over her still. I’m grateful for the time she spent with us, even as I lament how short it was.
May you always have time to run and play; may you live in an eternal Hosmer’s Grove. May there never be fireworks or loud noises, or people carrying big sticks. May you be safe from all harm. May you have all the chickens you can chase, and may you live blissed out on your favourite treats. May you always find your way home.
As you leave early to beat the rush, remember not to fall asleep as you pass through the Dark Desert. May Death stay by your side and talk long into the night with you about the many good qualities of cats. Whatever afterlife awaits you, may you go in peace.
Know that you left an indelible mark on many of us. You shall be missed as much as you are celebrated.
Manannan is…a trickster. He loves to joke, to laugh; laughter is huge with Him. Reverence comes packaged with mirth when you adore Manannan. He finds it hilarious and appropriate that my playlist for Him has the Mahna Mahna song from the Muppets on it (to which I sing “Manannanan!”).
He is a lord of storms, the ocean, the rain, the weather, and I feel His presence often because I live in a place where rain is exceedingly common, as well as being on the coast. I’ve always adored thunderstorms, even when I was little. I think that’s not coincidence.
Manannan is a very loving god, and He’s described by various people as sort of wanting to be everyone’s foster-uncle. That’s not the relationship He has with everyone, of course, but He definitely is a god who will want to comfort you when you’re down; who wants to be there for you. For me, He’s a father; for others, He’s an uncle; for some, a brother; for others still He is a lover. But regardless the relationship, what I often hear from other followers/devotees/mortal-relatives of Manannan is that He is a god who really does care about you, who really does love you. And He desires the same sort of love that humans desire, which makes Him pretty relatable to me.
But He’s scary, too. He feels anger, He feels disappointment (which I honestly think is worse to be on the receiving end of), and He’s (in my mind) the god of death. He comforts those grieving, yes, but He also takes the dead away. He’s a guardian between the realm of the living and the realm of the dead. Logically, I don’t feel any fear of death, but emotionally…there are mysteries I’m not ready for.
He’s like the ocean, in that way. In the shallows you can play and have fun and enjoy yourself and feel comforted. The deeper you get out, the scarier it gets, the more dangerous, the more unknown. I’ve come to understand the ocean as a chthonic realm through my relationship with Manannan. There’s a sense of understanding when it comes to underground spaces — they may be scary, but for the most part, we understand them. There’s so much about the ocean we’ve yet to discover. It’s much more an Underworld, in my view.
And He’s more than just Manannan; while I interact with Him mostly as that side, I get the sense that He slides into other roles easily, or sometimes is both at once: Manannan mac Lir, Manannan beg mac y Lir, Manawydan fab Llyr. Deity individuation isn’t the same as mortal individuation, and sometimes He’s all of these, or one, or two, or something else entirely. And I can’t really articulate it beyond that. (For the most part, though, I’m talking about Manannan mac Lir. I think.)
He is the ocean and the storm and the transition between life and death. And He’s warmth and love and comfort.
It’s raining today. It rained yesterday, and presumably all night (I was sleeping the sleep of the dead).
Vancouverites complain about the rain, because the most common mark of a true local is someone who can complain facilely about one of the most common features of their current place of residence. Of course Vancouver is rainy. It’s in a temperate rainforest. (Pluvisylva, if you want a fancy word for rainforest.)
I love the rain. I’m a pluviophile. I’m not always happy when I get stuck in it and get soaked, but often I’m the person running outside, barefoot, to dance in the storm.
It wasn’t always this way. I think, growing up in a place where most people hate the rain, you learn to hate it too — even if that’s not what’s natural to you. I hated on the rain like a true Vancouverite.
Then He arrived in my life, and I realized the rain was how He showed me He loved me. (It was pouring when I first met Him.) I realized I was loved by the rain, embraced by the mist, cradled by the sea. And I was able to shed the learned dislike of the rain, and embrace my natural state of being a pluviophile.