A High King Ascends to the Summerland
It was 45 years ago that my favorite tomboy entered my life. She brought with her a lifetime of creativity, play, laughter, joy, and sharing. She has shared many vacations with me, of course many memories, and significant to this tale, she has shared with me… her beloved family.
On Thursday, my life-long friend and I hopped on a plane to Huntsville, Alabama. I don’t believe either of us, while envisioning which path to take on our annual art-cation adventures, would have chosen this particular place as a destination (two progressive feminists went to Alabama…), but after this past weekend, I can assure you that it will be a part of future road trips.
Nearly a decade ago, my buddy introduced me to her cousin through facebook. Their mothers are sisters, but they did not grow up together, so it was a family reunion that brought them together as adults. And through connecting online about family heritage and sharing memories, they found like-minds in one another. Further, my friend could see in her cousin… a bit of me.
It’s funny how we are able to connect through writing and sharing on social media to find something much deeper than words and photos. Somehow, if we are really lucky, we manage to find communion. Not one person I met over the past four days felt like a stranger to me.
The reason for our journey north was one of pilgrimage. We arrived with open hearts and serving hands to honor the memory of a soul who departed around this time last year. Once again, he was a man that neither of us had the pleasure to have met in person, but through this sharing medium and from the heart of this lady that we love, he became legend.
Our kindred spirits were partially connected through common ground… A spiritual path, a world view, a love of ancient history and myth, and for the Emerald Isle, where we had both previously traveled. Connected by the web of life and the world-wide-web, we shared photos and our stories. Then one day, the story took a dark turn. Her husband suffered a life altering spinal injury in a car accident, and the lives of many would be dramatically affected through an epic journey of survival for the next seven years.
Being so far away, the best that my life-long friend and I could do was hold space and send the light of love, healing energy, and our desire for the very best possible outcome for this gentle giant and those he loved. And when his earthly body was ready to surrender his larger than life soul into the light of truth, we committed to being fully present to offer support and to celebrate his life. After much needed rest and recovery, and with the nearing first anniversary of his loss, it was time.
Looking back on the weekend I just left behind, it seems funny to consider how we walked into this woman’s world and felt immediately at home. Though they are cousins, my favorite tomboy only has memory of meeting in person this daughter of her mother’s sister once. Any previous meeting would have been at an age before memories were kept.
Since I have had front row seats in her life, those we met and the lives they discussed as they reviewed memories and tales of their individual and shared histories, I never grew bored, for even those I had never met were characters with whom I was familiar. After all, I had partially grown up in her home with her people, too. Amidst the connectedness, the laughter, and the enlightenment (as blank pages in family awareness were being filled), we prepared for the celebration to come.
Last year, as I studied the path of end of life doula, I was instructed to consider this part of dying… how do I wish to be remembered? If I were to write my own memorial service, what would that look like? I have to tell you… these people… they know how to throw a party! I may write an addendum to my own parting plan.
As our hostess went to the airport to fetch her sister (friends at age eleven, who became sisters when one’s mother and the other’s father fell in love and married), my buddy and I were given the task of putting together one facet of the table decorations. We laughed at how perfect it was for us to receive this assignment. Lovers of Mother Earth, the party planners had collected earthen pottery and lichen laden sticks of oak for table center pieces. We delighted in examining each limb and cooed over the sweetness of tiny green tufts of fluff that called these fallen twigs home. “Look at this one!” “Awwww… so cute.” “Which one do you think will go best with this taller stick?” “This one! NO. THIS one.” With smiles of agreement and sighs of adoration for these tiny bits of beauty, we gleefully completed our first task.
Later that night, we were given our second task. We went to the home of our dear one’s best friend. We became acquainted around the same time as our initial facebook connection, as a nod to those kindred details mentioned above. We were immediately smitten with our new/old friend and her magickal home which was filled with creative wonder. I brought with me a meditation I had written, which felt appropriate for grounding and connecting for the work ahead. It was a guided visualization to journey to the edge of the underworld to meet with loved ones lost. We went home with bits of plaid cloth to unravel, for the art of fringed edges. These tiny details would be woven into a stunning tribute.
The next day, after coffee and a bit of unraveling, we were delighted to be delivered and guided through a local treasure, Lowe Mill ARTS & Entertainment. To our surprise, we had wandered into an impromptu art-cation! Our mystical guide led us through rows of interesting and wonderful art galleries throughout three floors of market space. We got to meet several artists, and had a bit of a shopping frenzy with one artist who WOWed us with the beauty of her work. We also got a sneak peak at a bit of art in chocolate that would be a sweet focal point of the celebration. Handcrafted chocolate truffles sealed with a kiss from our sacred celebrant. His signature was pressed into a crowning coin of chocolate (like sealing wax on an important royal document), then dusted with gold. Seriously, this man must have lived well to have been so loved.
That night, we gathered with more family and friends in the home that had been prepared for his comfort, though he died just days before the planned move, they had hoped to ‘come home’ to a space outfitted for the many needs of a paraplegic. We met people whose names we had seen attached to loving comments on the page that we watched with dedication for the hopeful delivery of miraculous news, which sometimes offered triumphs and finally… heartbreak. We did not know their faces, but we knew the depth of their devotion. These were the ones who never left, even when things got hard. They served in every way possible, a man whose body was broken and his wife whose courageous heart moved through back-breaking days and sleepless nights to ensure his safety and survival. These people whom we were blessed to meet, exceed the definition of friendship. Over a seven-year saga of trial and tribulation, losing a home to the burden of medical bills, packing and moving more than once, not to mention all that goes into supporting the needs of someone whose body no longer can do what was once expected, a loving community encircled this sacred family and did whatever was needed to allow them to focus on the important work required.
Then, the big day arrived. Together, we went with new friends and (re)claimed family to meet and dress the sacred space that would hold the intention of honoring this sacred soul. My favorite tomboy and I loved getting to be a part of nurturing the vision dreamed up with great detail by this group of goddesses. Onto each round table went a black cloth that draped to the floor, a grey square of felt topped by hand-fringed flannel in green, black, and grey plaid, with an earthen vase of moss covered sticks encircled by seven white candles and a ring of green and white sea glass. As we worked on the tables, another friend arranged homegrown pale green hydrangeas for the altar, and smaller clusters were added to the stick vases.
There were so many delightful details involved in this mindful manifestation. There was a sweet slideshow of a life well-lived projected onto a freshly painted wall, which was to the left of the altar which held rich fabrics adorned with a huge arrangement of hydrangeas, his glasses and watch encased in a dome of glass, a white candle – a beacon to call his spirit home, and a shot of Irish whiskey as a sacred offering. The altar sat beneath a portrait of Himself, painted by a friend after his passing. It depicted a scene captured in a photograph during their journey to Ireland, when he stood regally upon the Hill of Tara, where the High Kings were once crowned.
We lunched and rested, then returned to the venue to greet the guests. A trio of musicians enchanted the hall with Celtic music and Irish folk songs throughout the evening. And once those who had gathered in memorium had settled in with snacks and beverages, we learned more about the man we honored. The evening’s emcee was a friend who had searched, purchased, and literally furnished the home of her friend, whose energy went entirely into enforcing the safety and well-being of her husband until his final day. The Huntsville Feminist Choir performed two songs dedicated to the memory of one of their biggest supporters. Friends and family members stood up to speak about a man they respected, admired, loved, and deeply missed. Energy was raised in laughter, as we learned of pranks and puns. Everyone in the room was brought to tears by the words of gratitude expressed by one of his final caregivers. She told us of how she insisted on giving his family a much needed break – despite his protests, and as she bathed and nurtured his body, he fortified her esteem and encouraged her efforts to further her education. As she lifted her eyes to the heavens and announced to him the educational grant she just won with gratitude for his support, our eyes released the emotion we’d all been holding.
This last tribute reminded me of my dad’s stay in rehab last year. He told me about one of his attendants, who recently immigrated for a better life. She had been worried about an English test she would have to pass to move forward with her education to become a nurse, and Dad had offered words of encouragement and to help her practice. The day he told me the story, with tears in his eyes, he was announcing that she came in to tell him she had passed the test. I know that we all hope to feel like we’ve made a difference in the lives of others, and I know that the man we honored that night would have been enormously proud of his caregiver, and he would have understood the multitude of ways that he made a difference in the lives of many.
Though we never knew him, my favorite tomboy and I got to know him through stories shared. Most of all, we understood his strength of character, his warmth of compassion, his generosity of kindness, his wicked and wonderful sense of humor, and purity of integrity through witnessing such grace in those we got to know, whom he loved.
At the end of the evening, we gathered into a circle and raised a parting glass, filled with a shot of Jameson’s Irish Whiskey. The Celtic Trio played that well-known tune as we held up our offerings of remembrance and respect. We held sacred space for his devoted wife, still weary but growing stronger, his three heartbroken and adoring sons, two by birth and one by choice. We held space for his grandchildren and family present and those who wished to be there, but could not. And we held space for this remarkably loving and supportive community who held this family in their safe keeping through many difficult days and years, until peace was found at the High King’s crossing into the Summerland.
We shared another day of restful togetherness before my life-long friend and I got back on the plane to come home. It was a surreal parting, for we had come to feel as if we belonged there, among these remarkable and loving souls. How special, for a woman in her grief to make us feel so welcome and at home. Of the lifetime of memories that my favorite tomboy and I share, I am certain that this holy weekend when we were witness to true grace, will remain one of our favorites.
Somewhere in the conversation of these four days, I reminded her that I intend to go first, for I cannot fathom living a single day without her. How lucky am I? To have been given the profound gift of her friendship, and that she should share so generously with me the honor of knowing and loving her family, too.
At 1am, I walked into my parents’ home, having come straight from the airport. I emptied my father’s catheter bag and helped him into his pajamas, gave him his evening pills, stood with the spit cup and the rinse cup while he brushed his teeth, and made sure all of the doors were closed and locked before making my way up the street to my house and my waiting cat. As I climbed into bed, I reflected on the years of service our cousin/friend had devoted to the man we had just honored. I smiled with gratitude for the blessing of being able to do the same for my parents (wishing that I could do so as well as she), and for the love and devotion of our own community who are presently holding space for all of us. We are so blessed.
Thank you for walking this path with me. I’m so happy you are here. If I could, I would share one of those intoxicating truffles with you. Cheers!
Ed Glynn (pictured here: on the Hill of Tara) has taken his seat among the High Kings in the Summerland. We honor his memory. We give thanks for the many blessings he delivered to this sacred earth. A warrior among men,
we bid thee hail and farewell.
3 thoughts on “Witness to Grace”
Well met, Melissa. Hurry back.
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A perfect summary of a special and unforgettable weekend. We truly are blessed, the luck of the Irish!
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That we are. ❣️