The dead have been much on my mind this month as we approach the feast of Samhain. Halloween, Dia do los Muertos, Samhain, all remember and celebrate the dead at this time of year. In Wicca, we believe the veil between the world of the living and the world of the dead grows thinner at this time, allowing for easier communication between the realms. Little wonder, then, that thoughts of the dead would be with me.
Each year at Samhain we honor those who have gone before, but we usually offer up a special remembrance for those who have passed in the last year. It seems like most of the past few years I have had somebody on this list: my grandmother, my childhood friend Laura, my grandfather, my cat Pixel. When the time for the Rite of Release rolls around again, I am always a little surprised to find another name on the last. Every time, it simultaneously feels too soon and long ago, as I look back on all the time that has passed and yet bring the grief back up new and fresh.
There are only two that I have lost since last Samhain, who will be honored this year for the first time: my friend Chris and her son Isaac. It’s so hard to see pictures of them and realize that this person is gone, absolutely gone, never to return. This is the first time I have encountered sudden, untimely death up close and personal. Somebody I used to know can die, and perhaps there’s a little regret at the loss of a chance to reconnect, but it’s not really immediate. The old and the sick die in their time, after a long life or a lingering illness; I miss them, but I don’t really grieve for them. Instead I adjust to the idea gradually as their death approaches.
To have them taken in the prime of life, full of health and youth, their lives ahead of them…to know that this death was absolutely, entirely, one hundred percent the fault of a very specific person…and yet to know that this person has placed himself forever beyond the reach of our personal revenge…There’s nothing quite like the feeling, like missing the top step, like being suddenly awakened from a beautiful dream, like jumping from the hot tub into the cold pool, like the power going out after dark, and more, all rolled into one. I never cried for anyone’s death before, but I cried for theirs. I think of them, and I think of what became of them, what was left behind in that house, and I can’t get those images out of my head, can’t get them to stop flashing before me whenever I see their faces or hear their names. And then I think of how small my own pain must be next to the pain of their family left behind, their own stronger connections and richer memories cut short by a selfish bastard.
All of this is part of what is to be consumed by the fire during the Rite of Release. All the anger, hatred, grief, blame, need for revenge, all is to be purified and burned away by the flames, leaving behind a measure of peace. I want to be left with those memories we all share of them, the things we remember them for doing and saying. I want to know that they are at peace and moving on with their existence, processing their recent lives and preparing for their next ones. I want to embrace the lessons they taught me by passing through my life and cherish them.
I want to say Hail to the Beloved Dead. Hail, and Farewell.