Returning To Life
The bright copper of October has finally faded into the brown of November. There are more leaves on the ground then the trees now. When I walk my dog we kick them up in great fluffy piles. Like autumn butterflies, each leaf shows me what transformation can look like. Every season tells an invisible, mythic story. If we only pay attention, we can see how that story inevitably takes shape within us, as well as without.
Last week was Samhain, the Celtic holiday of endings and beginnings, a time when the boundaries between the worlds grows thin and it is easier to touch the hidden side of things. Sometimes these holidays or seasonal themes come in poetically, the metaphor as subtle and fulfilling as a touch of brandy added to warm apple cider. Other times the literalness of the journey is astounding— these ancient wisdoms aren’t just figments of the imagination; they are based on thousands of years of observing what is real.
This year’s turning has been a quite literal one for me. On the evening of Samhain, just a few hours before the first frost of the season was set to roll into our garden, we got the news that my dear Aunt Sharon had slipped into unconsciousness and was beginning her journey into the Otherworld. I harvested the last of the frost-tender lemongrass, lit the candles on my Samhain ancestor altar, and drove straight towards the setting crescent moon to reach her bedside. After five years of living with cancer, my aunt was ready to be an ancestor— and Samhain was the day she began her transition.
My family spent those last few days holding her hand as she slept somewhere in-between this world and the next. Her body let go, slow and deliberate as the falling leaves, while her spirit shimmered like autumn light through the trees. The peace emanating from her process was palpable. As we watched her chest slowly rise and fall we were reminded that the distance between this world and the next is as thin as a breath.
For those few days our world revolved around that Otherworld my Aunt was traveling towards. We spoke to her there, envisioned her there, felt her in that unseen everywhere as diffuse and whole as the scent of cinnamon in the air. We descended into the comforting depths to help her lift off, lowering our spirits as tenderly as a votive into an open pumpkin so we could watch her essence float up like sparks. A few days later she passed from this world into the next.
When I arrived back home it was to a garden that had also transitioned. The basils and zinnias had died with that first Samhain frost, their spirits set free while their bodies went dark among the still vibrant chickweed. I went out into the cold to listen to the sound of the wind through the trees. It was quiet and I was alone for the first time in days. I felt neither here nor there, but lost somewhere in-between. As I stood there, contemplating the death all around me, wind licking the curve of my face, it was as if a voice reached out from the trees and asked— “are you willing to come back to the land of the living?” After a whole weekend of dipping in and out of the Otherworld, I realized I had a choice. Looking at the still-golden tips of the canopy my heart flew up with a surprising yes.
Anytime we experience a loss we come to this crossroads, this opportunity to touch the Otherworld and come back. In this life we are asked— over and over again— if we are willing to truly be here. For those who have experienced a death of any kind (the death of a job, a relationship, a project, or way of being) you know that bereavement has the ability to crack open a doorway so you can glimpse both sides of the track. In the midst of such loss, it is an act of sheer bravery to keep saying yes.
Standing in the bare garden, I thought about all the times I had said no, consciously or unconsciously, to my life. Days when I zoned out on my phone, or numbed myself with work, or pushed myself to keep going when what I really needed was to sit on the couch and let the intensity wash over me. Times when living simply felt too hard and so my spirit left. I felt such tenderness for the parts of myself that have needed to flutter away at times, but I also felt the power, the preciousness, the incredible gift of being able to say yes to living once more.
At the end of every autumn, and in the wake of every ending we face throughout our lives, we are asked this— will you choose to be here again? Will you bring the fullness of your spirit to this earth? Despite the cold, despite the struggle, despite all the things that are so very hard about being on this planet… will you still say yes?
The day next was a sun-soaked gift, the kind that can only happen in late autumn when the leaves are nearly gone and there is nothing standing between you and that outpouring of light. I laid in the park, letting the black of my sweater soak up the sun, warming me from the outside. I listened to the laughter of children and the slow steps of their grandparents walking by their side. I listened to the lap of the lake and the happy, late birdsong. Inside me was a tenderness that made my whole body aware of every sound in the silence, every deep drink of sunlight.
They say that the best food we can offer the ancestors is to fully enjoy the fruits of our own lives. When we say yes to life, we offer the only real treasure we each have to give— our presence. When I was ready, I sat up in the light of that lakeside and ate an apple slowly, bite by bite.
If you’ve been in the midst of your own loss recently— an ending, a tenderness, or a descent— know that you aren’t alone. Like Persephone, we will all climb into that Underworld over and over again, and each time we will have the choice of whether to climb back out again. The divine will be revealed, and then veiled once more. The answers known and then forgotten. Our own fragility will break us, and then put us back together again.
This is life, and we have the choice to be here. So whenever you chooseto bring yourself back, honor that bravery— and know that the world will rush in to meet you with all its raw, unfiltered, and gorgeously hope-filled clarity.
with love for this bright light
Sharon Diane Finnegan-Price
1950 – 2019
*Beautiful photos of me by Ocean Mountain Media