It’s coming up to Samhain, and with it All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day for Catholics. It’s natural to think of those who have passed, particularly in the last year, but those who passed before as well. And with me putting together the course on Brig in Caith Maigh Tuireadh for next week as well, grief is on my mind. Plus, the weather appears to be grieving here in Ireland as well – we’re into our usual October weather. I wasn’t even willing to step outside to take the pick below, hence the window frame on the LHS.
Kübler-Ross & Kessler (2005) identified 5 stages of grief, but this has since been expanded to 7:
- Acceptance & hope
- Processing grief
Of course, it’s not as simple as moving through each of these stages, one by one, in a pre-ordained manner, until we’re better. In my experience (which isn’t universal of course!) grief goes in a spiral, like a lot else in life. So I might work through shock, denial, etc only a few months later to be overcome by anger at my loss again, or to feel entirely depressed by it again, for no apparent outward reason. And there’s no “normal” timeframe to get over the loss of someone close to you, human or otherwise.
In short, grief is as personal as any other emotion there is. And it can crop up at different times for different people. But when we speak of times like Samhain, or All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day, it brings out memories closer. And in both Catholicism and Paganism, we’re encouraged to remember those who have gone before us, whether that’s ancestors altars or praying for their souls, or asking for help or a combination of all. So, grief can come back to haunt us as we do this. Of course, we can also be laughing in our grief – the memory of my Nana threatening my Dad with an iron for something he said is bittersweet now, but it still makes me laugh (She was 5’3″ and he’s 5’10” ish… and he had been pulling the piss rather than anything serious) The memory of my other Nana sitting down enjoying a brandy in a Doolin pub is a great memory, but I most often remember her putting me to bed as a child and stroking my hair til I went to sleep. My Grandad admiring my new pair of Docs, much to my Ma’s chagrin or my other Grandad telling my Dad that “there’s a long road ahead of ye” and “those children should be in bed by now” (all subtle hints to go home!)
Our memories keep our loved ones alive in a way – they don’t cling to earth by us remembering them, but it keeps them alive in our hearts, in my opinion, and those memories are all the more precious because no more can made with them in this life. And some of the memories are painful, some of them hurt, some of them feel horrible… but sometimes those are precious as well.
As I delve into the story of Brig in Caith Maigh Tuireadh, I think more and more of the various losses and griefs that must have struck Brig on her journey through the story. She married Bres, and no matter how political the marriage, they both must have had some hopes for the joining that didn’t end in war and death. She lost Ruadhán, and then Brian, Iuchar and Uar as well. She lost her husband – well the last we hear of Bres in CMT is when the Dagda goes to fetch his harp and Bres is there and is put to sleep along with the rest of them. I mean, there’s no mention of him coming back to Brig, so I’m assuming once your husband incites war on your people and goes back to his father’s people, that’s grounds for a legal separation at the very least?
It’s a different grief than the loss of a son, but it’s a loss and a grief all the same. Political marriages aren’t based on love, indeed marriage for most of history appears to have been more business-like than modern notions of love and romance, but still and all, the loss of a marriage is still a loss. Bres and Brig had children together, that means they had sex a few times, and Bres was probable as distraught as Brig over Ruadhán’s death. Courtney Weber in her 2015 book references a story of Bres and Brig meeting on the sea shore to mourn Ruadhán together, but unfortunately, she can’t remember where she found the story and I’ve not been able to find it since.
Either way – Brig has experienced loss and she can understand and help us on our own journey. And while, yes the 7 stages of grief seem all sensible, and logical, and progressive to move through one by one – human emotions aren’t. They really don’t work like that. Human emotions are messy, and ugly, and primal, and blood and bone, and don’t fit into neat boxes… So remember that. And if you are thinking of loved ones gone from your life in the run up to and past Samhain – cut yourself some slack. Devote some time to the experience and allow yourself to grieve, as best you can. It’s ok. And you can always ask herself for help!!
Kübler-Ross, Elisabeth, and David Kessler. On grief and grieving: Finding the meaning of grief through the five stages of loss. Simon and Schuster, 2005.
Weber, Courtney. Brigid: History, Mystery, and Magick of the Celtic Goddess. Weiser Books, 2015.