Friday, 8 June 2012

Saying Goodbye

Months have passed. Pickle and I are sculpting a new way to live, to be joyful, to be grateful, to remember without breaking. We are finding a way to be something like family without my heart's Captain and Pickle's Dada. We are, as they say, moving on; tugged by time further and further from the last everything with Thomas. 

Soon it will be time to write about the curiosities and wonders of our new life, but first I want to share with you some of how we have been saying goodbye; unclenching our desperate monkey fists and walking away from the jar which holds the past. And to honour just a very few of the people who have helped me. And to thank all of you, sincerely, for your love and kindness. (You may wish to make a cup of tea at this point.)

The day after Thomas's death, one of his closest friends, Jason of England, held a memorial fire on his land. At such short notice, webs of all kinds called in an amazing amount of people. Our local cafe, where Thomas, Philippa and I have all worked, closed so all staff could attend.

In fine Chagford tradition, children of all ages came and stood solemn or ran wild as the mood and the wind took them and dogs circled each other for all the reasons dogs circle, then became pack for the day.

Tom Hirons held the space with a strength all the more admirable for the shaking. He, and his partner in smiles Rima Staines (who took these photos and those of the funeral), have consistently been solid ground for me when I have spun myself too thin to feel gravity.

We spoke sage truth, as we passed the herb bundle or as the moment stepped us forward.

We drank mead from this horn as we did at our wedding.

We found comfort in touch. Here, my mother is at my shoulder, my father in the foreground. Their ripping at their impotence to make this not so for me has come to naught and the pain of that runs deep. I cannot imagine being the parent of this woman at this moment. Her face shocks me, so much older than my own and etched with a raw grief I have since learned to smooth with a smile.

And then my turn. I spoke directly to Thomas. I told him that he had done enough. He had given the world and me more than can be said, plus the joy that is Pickle. He had created this circle of loving people, and a much, much wider one elsewhere. Enough. Nothing to stay for. I released him from me and asked him to go free.

There is an icicle in that moment. Sharp.

And I told Thomas, and I tell you now, that if I had foreknowledge of this story; if I knew that we would have only five years together, that Pickle would have less than two years to know her Dada, that when he died it would feel like this... 

every day like this...

I would choose this story. I would choose this man and this heart to give mine to. Five years exchanging love with such a heart is enough to last me a lifetime and I will pour all I have received from Thomas into the small and perfectly formed heart of our Pickle. I will make her life wonderful.

And then it rained. Hard. Unable to withstand it we fled inside Jason's barn and clustered like animals sensing danger, smelling death.

But all things pass.

Quite atypically for Dartmoor, the blue reasserted itself

and we crawled out with the sun.

Organising a funeral seemed so far beyond my capabilities, despite doing it with Philippa (Thomas's aunt, who co-raised him) and help from many people, but the day arrived nonetheless.

We gathered in our friend's beautiful yoga barn, hundreds of us dressed in forest colours, listening to the phenomenal harp music of Elizabeth Jane Baldry, clustering thickly around the leaf cocoon which held his body so much more tenderly than a coffin.

A few of us had words to say. We spoke of Thomas's kindness, of the child's life he had saved, of his sense of adventure and great skill at dreaming. We spoke of his enormous propensity for clutter in other people's lofts, of his knowledge and art and wisdom, and I, stuttering with shock, read this from my journal:

There was a girl – the usual mix of wise and numpty, with a streak of fierce and a wash of sorrow. She grew up and met a man. As it happens, a quite extraordinary man. Now, this man had a shaman’s heart. Since before his birth, the chances of it beating for much longer had always been small. At 10 days old he wouldn’t make 2 years. At 2 he wouldn’t make 5. At 5 he wouldn’t make puberty. At 15 his chances of having children were too tiny for doctors to consider.
So, when our woman met this man, he was already long in the habit of squeezing a decade of love into every year – every moment, when he could.
Of course, she fell in love. And in one of those strange quirks of fate, he fell in love with her too. And by ‘fell’, I mean they fell into another world entirely where just the existence of the other makes every grubby thing shinier and every shiny thing glow white hot. It was a very good thing.
He was 27 when they married in a cloud on a hill and soon their wonderful daughter was born, true of heart and loud of lung. He was the very first to kiss her and even those who knew him well marveled at the new depths of love he found. Another very good thing.
The three of them spoke of their love many times a day. Notes were left in hidey places, gifts bought for no reason but the giving and they had a fine time laughing and singing and dancing and reading and drawing together.
He was 30 when his shaman’s heart faltered, panicked and stopped. He was at home, his wife at his side, his belly full of pizza. Only minutes before, his sleepy daughter had been dreamfeeding between her parents as they held hands in the darkness.
So now our woman is a widow at 33 – tragic. And a single mum – tough.
So, love her, help her (trust me, she needs it) but don’t be too sorry for her. She was chosen to be the wife of this amazing man, to join her heart with his, and she has many happy years to spend with their daughter.
She is still the luckiest girl in the world.

And then, six at a time, his father at the front all the way, the strongest of us carried Thomas up the long, long road to the top of the hill, to the peak opposite where we married.

There is a good reason for the phrase 'a dead weight'. Thomas was 6' 4" (very tall in metric) and broad of shoulder. Several times the bearers stopped and we took the opportunity for the Morris men and women to honour Thomas in the way he loved (right outside he church).

When the slowest had caught their breath, on we processed, bearing fire and birds created the day before to symbolise Thomas's wish for a, sadly illegal, sky burial.

Friends were waiting at the burial site to smudge us (for many of our relatives, the second time they had been smudged - the first being our wedding) and greet us with a fire. Thomas always needs a fire.

To uphold another Chagford tradition, we forsook all tradition and Jason read a text Thomas had sent him from hospital, about death and fear and bodily entropy, but all expressed in that Thomas way I cannot emulate; only point to

and Rima played as many notes as her heart could express, each one a tear.

Some special and personal things were put into the grave with Thomas. I gave him the Dydd Santes Dwynwen card I had written to give him on the day he died. (Santes Dwynwen is the Welsh equivalent of Saint Valentine and felt like our own Valentine's Day. It is incredible that he died that day.) And I gave into his keeping the little box of moss and soft things he had created to hold Pickle's umbilical cord.

One by slow and weeping one we crept to the brink and let a handful of earth cover a little more of our Thomas. Pickle, who had been sleeping in her buggy since we were halfway up the hill, woke with perfect timing to add the littlest handful of earth to the grave of her Dada. That memory is seared on my heart. 

And, as we had herded up, so we trickled down, back to the barn for an afternoon of memory gathering (we are making a book for Pickle), music, tears and the usual banquet of shared food. And more Morris dancing.

We have planted trees with Thomas now, oak and hawthorn. And, in a field near the town, a mulberry.

And on Lunar Beltane, we had a tremendous fire in honour of Thomas, built with skill by Peter Montanez. Pete had asked Thomas to light this year's Beltane fire, so I lit it (with his dad, sister and oldest friend) in his stead.

Drummers called up the energy

and it burned

and it burned

and it burned.

Here it is in action: 

June 3rd was Thomas's birthday, so we returned to his grave site and guess what? We lit a fire. Here is his dad, Bill, adding wood; my parents to the right and Thomas's uncle Simon (the Great) trying to look like he knows how to break sticks despite living in Richmond in the background.

We were a much smaller group, just those who couldn't let his birthday pass without holding out a hand to the others.

Pickle helped fetch wood,

we cooked delicious stews

and while Pickle was contentedly sitting in a wheelbarrow with a fast-disappearing bowl of food, I took a quiet moment to visit Thomas's oak

and hawthorn

and the mound where his body lies.

I always say that I love this land wide land of moor and wood and water and ancient rock, but this particular piece of land will always be the best seat on Dartmoor for me.

If your tea is still warm, or you have warmth enough without, Rima has written a most beautiful, most true, most heartful tale of The Elf with the Upside-Down Heart.
Terri Windling has discussed Thomas's many talents and contributions to folklore and mythic arts In Memorium.
Rachel has written a lovely piece For Thomas and one about his journey into the Earth.
and our good friend from everywhere, Manjree Khajanchi, has written a poetic Eulogy: For T.H.

Thank you for staying with me. Next time we meet I shall fold back the corner of my widow's cloak and show you some of the secret things beneath which make me giggle and breathe a little deeper.
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