But after the spear had been given to him, Rúadán turned and wounded Goibniu. He pulled out the spear and hurled it at Rúadán so that it went through him; and he died in his father’s presence in the Fomorian assembly. Bríg came and keened for her son. At first she shrieked, in the end she wept. Then for the first time weeping and shrieking were heard in Ireland. (Now she is the Bríg who invented a whistle for signalling at night.)
The above is an excerpt from Caith Maige Tuired, gthe Second Battle of Moytura. And I’ve written about this excerpt before. I’ve even written a devotional on the lines. But it’s hitting me hard this week. I lost my godfather last week and because of COVID couldn’t attend the funeral. All the usual rituals of grief are lost to me. I watched his funeral on YouTube, which, while better than nothing is still not the same as the usual rites.
There was no final visit to him. There was no rosaries over the coffin. There were few stories exchanged, and those only with my parents, rather than the wider group of his family and friends. (These things happened, of course, with his wife and children and grandchildren, those family and friends who lived close enough to be able to visit and mourn together, but not for those of us further away).
Usually at a time of grief, those who can’t attend are few in number and so attention can be spared to help them, talk them through all the bits and bobs that happen in an Irish funeral. The jokes about how he’d be very happy with the way he looked in the coffin and how, yes, he still has the earrings in. The accidental references to him as if he were still alive. The plans for who stays with the body so he’s not left alone. The small ways we reach out to include people in a time of grief.
But with so many not able to attend, all that becomes impossible. And here we are, a year on, with a vaccine in sight, but still with months at best left before any sort of normal life can continue. And we grieve in private, as we always did, but also alone, which we did not always do.
Brigid knows grief. Her loss of a son is keener than my loss this week. She knows. Her Da knows as well. As does the Virgin Mary. All three have been around me this week to help, to support, to be here with me. I’ve sheltered under both the blue cloak and the green for peace and sanctuary, for heart’s ease. I’m almost certain the Dagda carried me to bed one night cos I know I didn’t get there by myself. They’ve reminded me to eat, to wash, to drink water, to move, to allow myself tears. To accept that ok, my eyes are not going to work properly for a while after that much crying.
And now, they are all reminding me that life does indeed go on. This doesn’t mean an end to grief, of course, but an end to the first, immediate, gut wrenching pain of separation. For me, right now, it’s an end to that stage of grief. It’s time to re-don the mantle of semi normal every day living. It’s time to light the candles and say the prayers. It’s time to drink water to ease the headache, get dressed and face the world. It’s time to get going again basically.
They’re right of course. I am sure his immediate family will be in that first stage for a while longer, they have the immediate reminders of him not being there all around them, on a minute by minute, hour by hour basis, in ways I don’t. It doesn’t make my grief less, or theirs more worthy, but it is different and will be dealt with in different ways.
So, today, I’m back on my usual schedule. I’m writing a blog post. I’m taking care of myself. I’m preparing for the week in work. I’m sorting out clothes and food and schedules. I will, no doubt, cry again because he’s moved on to the next life. But I will also start living again, rather than remain in a sort of limbo as I have been doing for almost a week now.
Brigid (and the Dagda and Mary and others) will be here with me for support and help, and the odd clip up the back of the head, as I need it. And I have tools and ability to mark this loss for myself, to make it less bad for me. They’ve helped with that too. And I have a community of friends who will and have been helping as well.
There are many things this pandemic has changed forever and possibly for the better – my attitude to working from home for a start – but I don’t think our grieving rituals are included there. Our grieving rituals are so intrinsic to the rhythm of life, to how we say goodbye to people, I can’t imagine them changing overnight like this. As soon as we can, we’ll be back to the rounds of handshakes and “sorry for your troubles”, the crowds of people lining up outside the funeral home or the home place, the endless cups of tea and the sandwiches and the cakes and the buns, the stories after a few drinks and the reminders at about 11pm or midnight that “we have something important to do in the morning”. We’ll be back to the communal support, the escorting of the coffin, the silence and the black. Because it’s written into our ancestral memories now, that this is what grief looks like and this is how we cope with grief. We have all this to do in that horrible, horrible first 3 day period so we can get through it all. We just keep going and if we keep going that long, we can still keep going past it.