Jan 28, 2015
I was initiated into my third degree in 2008. I don’t know if I was more happy to get the initiation or to be able to finally stop going through the trials that a degree systems brings to your front door; or so I thought. Either way, it was a turning point in my life, it was the result of a lot of hard work and one of the first times I chose to study something long term by choice. The last time I had gotten a certificate and a rite of passage from years of studying was the day I walked across the stage to get my high school diploma. What did not register to me at the time was that my “learning” journey was not over in the area of spiritual development and had just begun. I knew there would be more lessons but I somehow had convinced myself that the huge transitions had now concluded.
The very next year I started back at school for my Bachelor’s program and we ended up with two new children unexpectedly (a 2 month old baby and an 18 month old). Life was challenging and scary but I felt empowered. I was finishing edits for my first book, Bridging the Gap, and things were moving. After an unfortunate situation our family was left to make a decision of whether to take on the two kids full-time or put them back into the system. With three adults in the home, my husband, mom and I made the decision to do this together. We fought the courts and won. We made that decision in December…… January changed my life forever and officially became the next process of initiation; the hardest one I would ever endure.
It happened fast, one moment life was normal and the next moment I was in this unbelievable story that I did not choose. My son called me at work and told me that there was an accident, that my mom caught on fire while she was cooking. He put her on the phone and all she could say to me was that she can’t talk, “it hurts too much”. That was the last time I would ever hear my mother’s voice.
By the time I got home she was on the stretcher, being loaded into the ambulance, and then airlifted from the park around the corner from my house to a burn unit in San Jose. By the time I got to the hospital she was intubated and sedated. Over the next two weeks I would only see my mom’s eyes open one more time.
Those two weeks felt like a lifetime. I was juggling the pending life of my mother in a hospital 45 minutes away from home, an infant and a toddler, an 8 year old child who watched his grandmother catch on fire, and a then 16 year old son who was too hurt to speak of it. The horrible reality of our situation was compounded by the fact that the younger children were in the home to watch, traumatized, re-traumatized and in shock.
I would drive every day to sit in that room with her, I would do my homework and play music so she would hear it. I would have panic attacks in the hallways of the hospital and talk to the therapist in the bathroom.
Somewhere in the timeline of two weeks, I can’t remember when exactly, it became real to me that she was hurt really bad. And as I lost my balance in the hallway, the social worker picked me up and led me to the library. I sat in the chair and sobbed. There was a moment in the crying that I came up for air, and as I raised my eyes I saw the picture on the wall. It was a cross stitched picture of a phoenix framed on the wall with a little description of the mythology. It was at that exact moment that I knew she would die.
You see, my family had named ourselves Family of the Rising Phoenix years ago when I was going through the Family Coven exercises of my tradition. There are images of phoenixes all through my home, and the tenets of our family faith were created to encompass our family interpretation of the importance of this concept. This picture was profound because it was speaking the language of my family, with the image that we chose to represent who we are.
The hardest thing I had to do was to watch my mother die in that room on January 29th. The second hardest thing I had to do was to come home and tell my children. And the third hardest thing I had to do was to go to PantheaCon the week after her memorial and teach…. but I did. I walked into the vending room of the Double Tree on the first day of PantheaCon and went to Stephanie Pui-Mun Law’s booth where she had the Death Card from her new deck framed on display.
When I realized it was the woman rising as the phoenix, I had a profound moment of knowing and of pain, right there on the floor of the vending room. (That painting is now hanging in my living room).
I went on to teach two workshops that weekend. I cried through moments of them both, and that was ok. I will never forget that a Priestess there talked about losing her long term ritual partner very recently and we both cried in that little workshop on the ground floor of the Double Tree hotel.
What followed that moment in time was months of severe depression, trauma and grief throughout my whole family. Nightmares and overwhelming grief were met with a lot of therapy and long periods of isolation. Holding the trauma of my family often meant that I did not have the time to grieve, I had to nurse my kids back to life.
Five years later we are still healing as a family. Five years later I still stand on the scorch marks in my kitchen to cook or wash the dishes. Five years later I understand that as a Priestess I have touched the darkness in a way that I could have never imagined, and it has helped to shape the way that I engage in my life today. Five years later I am learning how to talk about it.
And five years later I am coming to understand that my mother left me with the most spiritually profound lesson that she could ever teach me. It is not in the knowing that makes me spiritual, it is in the way that I rise out of the deepest moments of darkness that I learn to stand in spirit. She left me every clue that she could to let me know that this part of my development would be much like the phoenix, that I would shed and become something I could not imagine. I am just now learning how to imagine again, and I have continued to put one foot in front of the other through the pain.
After the last 5 years I have begun to embrace some of the parts of me that I did not know existed, and honor the parts of me that I wanted to ignore. The pain of this initiation has propelled me into a woman that can speak, fight, love, and hold her ground despite the pain and sadness. I can hold them both, the light and the dark, the joy and the sadness, the excitement and the fear of living life.
After five years of not sharing my mom’s final pictures with anyone, I shared some pictures with a close friend/priestess and with a family member. It is an exercise in healthy release, and in trust. I am able to write this piece without going numb and I am able to talk about it with an increasing amount of strength and resilience.
My children are now five, seven, thirteen and twenty one years old. My husband and I are still together. I completed my bachelors degree in 2012 and immediately started graduate school; I graduate this year. The fifth book that has my name somewhere on the cover came out last week. We have continued through the challenges of pain and faith, and continuing to thrive slowly… one moment at a time. The pain has become a part of my story, shaping much of who I have become and keeping me grounded. This journey has been one of the most challenging initiatory processes of my life but for the first time in a long time, I feel like I am a stronger Priestess, mother, and woman than I ever knew I could be.
The 29th of January marks the day my mother transitioned and the day that this part of my journey began. I am stronger today, and I am healing. I am confident in why I am here, and I know that I have to make the world a better place for my children the way that my mother did for me.