The veil is thinning. Samhain is upon us and there are signs of it everywhere. I see it in the changing color of the leaves, crimson, orange and gold against the blue sky as they float on the air in their final descent to the ground. It is in the rich scent of decay in the soil and the heart-warming aroma of burning firewood that are carried on the Autumn breezes. I hear it in the crunching of leaves beneath my feet and in the honking geese taking flight overhead. In my garden, the purple coneflowers have withered and gone to seed, on which the goldfinches feast each day. The bees and butterflies have all disappeared and, slowly, my plants are realizing this, their leaves and flowers drooping in sadness.
Yes, the veil is thinning. I feel it in my very bones and can almost see it each night as I gaze at the darkening sky and find myself remembering what once was, thinking about what is, and imagining what may be. Yet, I have been close to the opening of the veil for the past year, walking to the end of a life with someone dear to me, bringing me so close to the veil that my own body at times felt heavy and weary, that my spirit felt the tug of that other world, and that, when the journey was over, my mind and soul continues to wander back for a while.
It began last October 31st. We were all still reeling from the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and I hastily threw together a Halloween celebration. At the end of the night, I trudged up the stairs to soak my weary self in a hot bath, to just relax and reflect upon the events of the past few days, to meditate on Samhain and its meaning to me, to just be. As I soaked in the scalding hot bath, scented with herbs from the garden, I closed my eyes, slowed my racing mind, and slipped into what I can only call a space between the worlds. The sun was shining brightly over rolling green hills dotted with trees and, right in front of me, a large group of people had gathered. I knew each and every one of them, all family who had passed away over the years, some I had not even known over the course of my life but only saw in pictures and heard about in stories. And not just my own family but my husband's as well.
From beneath a tall tree, my mother walked forward, coming towards me. She smiled but it was a smile steeped in sadness. She told me that I had to listen to her, that she had something very important to tell me, that I must understand what she would tell me. She told me that my father would not be here by the Summer, that he would pass very quickly and very peacefully. "You need to understand this," she said, her eyes locking on mine. I reached out for her but she backed away. As she did, I saw my husband's uncle, who had passed away very suddenly a few years back. He called out a message for me to give to his nephew, all with a beaming smile on his face.
My eyes snapped open and there I was in the tub. I raced to get out of the tub and into the bedroom where the hubby was watching television. I relayed his uncle's message first and then launched into all I had seen, all I had been told. Every few sentences, I blurted out, "It was not a dream." In the days that followed, the doubt set in. Maybe it was a dream. Maybe I just dozed off and experienced a vivid dream. Maybe this, maybe that. I worked every angle that I could, trying to convince myself that it could not have been real. Then, mid-November, my father was diagnosed with cancer. I won't go into the long story of the months following the diagnosis but I will say that he faced it with such strength, such hope, such courage, that he truly surprised me. He was not the type of man to go to doctors, to undergo medical procedures. But there he was, going through rounds of tests, getting chemo and radiation, and even eventually undergoing brain surgery. He threw everything he could at it and, even in July, when the doctors explained to him that his cancer was explosive at that point, he wanted to continue fighting.
On August 26th, we moved my Dad to a hospice facility. After a month at home on hospice care, he took a very sudden turn for the worst and we had no choice but to move him. It was the last time that I would see my Dad awake and somewhat alert That night, as my son - who, Goddess bless him, chose to stay at the hospice facility with me - slept on a sofa in one of the family rooms, I stood at the huge window there, staring out at the sprawling sparkling city of Philadelphia and, beyond the lights, out in the velvet darkness of the sky, I saw a shimmering purple. The veil was parting to allow my father through to the other side. I knew then it would not be long.
The next night, after a long-time family friend and former student of my father's rushed across town to serenade my Dad with a little Bob Dylan and The Band (something for which I am eternally grateful and moved beyond words), and my husband and middle sister headed reluctantly home for the night, my youngest sister and I sat there with Dad, a Van Morrison CD playing, one of us on either side of him, each holding a hand, each whispering comfort, peace and love to him. Just as the clock round to midnight, after I dozed in my chair for a few minutes, there was a sudden change in my Dad and a palpable change in the room. The atmosphere became thicker, heavier, yet the small room felt cavernous, like it was gaping open somewhere. I became very cold, near shivering, and I felt like the words were coming out of my mouth faster, almost with desperation. The slower my Dad's breathing got, the faster the words came, as they do when raising power. I could feel him slipping away, feel his spirit pulling away from us, feel it pulling out of his body and towards the opening veil. I remember hearing "go, go, go" in my head. And then, silence. Utter silence. All went still. Daddy was gone.
In the days since, there are times I must force myself to do normal things, like go to school, to work, to enjoy family and friends, even eat and sleep. When I don't do these everyday things, I feel that tug, that pull, that heaviness, and I wander into a gaping blank space. Sure, some of this is sadness, loss, grief, but it is also how very close I came to the opening of the veil, that place between, where the world ends and begins, where time stops and starts again, where life dies and is born anew. I feel it again now, as Samhain approaches. The veil is thinning. Perhaps as I move between the worlds during my Samhain ritual this year, I will be able to see that beautiful place again, see all those people one more time...plus one.
Samhain Blessings to you all!