Death, Grief, and the Shitty Side of Spirituality

It's been just over two years since I experienced an unexpected death that forever changed me. It all happened quickly, a diagnosis and phenomenal loss in less than a week. Half a damn week, really. When it happened I wasn't just sad and depressed, I was choking on the grief, wading in guilt—which all too often accompanies grief—and I was angry.

Really. Friggen. Angry.

I wrote about it here and discussed the natural approaches I used to help cope with the grief hereSince then I've received a lot of e-mails regarding these posts and have had more than one person tell me they feel there isn't enough discussion concerning grief and Paganism, as if the topic itself is taboo.

In some ways, maybe it is. After all, death is something we openly embrace. Heck, our biggest sabbat is dedicated to it! We honor death as part of the life cycle, an ending that is also a beginning. As Pagans, we see beauty in the cyclical, including the reality that all life cycles include a stage of death. To us, death is not a definitive ending but merely a period of transition and growth for the soul, returning to the Divine Essence from which we all emerge.

Yet therein lies a dark little conundrum, one that I myself have questioned: Since Pagans embrace death as part of life, shouldn't we be at peace when people die? Shouldn't Pagans innately have a shortened period of grief since we understand it as the end of our journey on Earth? Shouldn't we be celebrating their life and honoring their transcendence instead of crying? Their spiritual journey is over! They've accomplished what their spirit came here to do! All is well, my remaining earth-dwelling friends!

Um, NO. This Pagan is more than willing to admit I am NOT okay with death. I accept it and I seek comfort in my spiritual beliefs when someone I love dies. I await signs. I tell myself death was part of their journey, and all journeys must end. But I mourn like a mutha. 

Like, bad. 

I'm an embarrassment at a funeral. I can't stop sobbing. The only redeeming factor is that I've learned to do so quietly. Even if I hardly knew the person I'm still a weepy mess. I just feel so deeply for their survivors, you know? We've all experienced the pain of loss. And despite understanding the need for death, it's a reality I strongly dislike— seeing people in pain, watching the family suffer. Knowing that numb, alien, sleep-like state they will stumble through in the weeks following such a painful loss.

As a Pagan, I do see a beauty to the cycle of life. There is a peace that can be found in the impermanence. Nothing lasts forever, not even the crappy stuff, which is a good thing when you're swimming in a poo-laden stream. As a Pagan I accept death, but I don't have to be happy about it!

I'm not okay with losing someone I love. I'm certainly not okay with watching them suffer, because death is an UGLY creature. And when I lost someone I so desperately loved two years ago, my world all but shattered. I will openly admit I didn't handle it with even a semblance of grace. I proverbially collapsed. I stopped functioning. The only reason I even ate was because my husband continued to shove plates of food in front of me and gently nudged me to eat. Otherwise, I probably would have gone weeks on just water and Kleenex. 

As Pagans, we often discuss the release that is death, the end to a cycle, and the eternal qualities of our soul. But apparently we don't discuss the turmoil left behind on our wondrous planet, because, as I said earlier, quite a few people have contacted me about feeling this topic is not frequently explored in our community.

Fortunately, after previously mentioned snot-fests at funerals, there's little in life that embarrasses me, so I'll go ahead and admit to it: As a Pagan I struggle with death. 

Not all losses are as monumental as the train wreck that occurred in 2016, but every loss is met with tears, with sadness, with a period of uncomfortable numbness where the world feels oddly dull and yet distressingly piercing at the same time. The explanation for this experience isn't that complicated: we are human. It doesn't matter what we believe, loss is still loss. They call it that for a reason! Someone that mattered to us—human or animal alike—is now missing from our daily life, leaving behind a void, excruciating emotions, and a lot of questions.

Why them? Why now? Why like that? Why ever? Why is life filled with so much goddamn pain?

It's okay to question the meaning of it all, the purpose of a path you can't rationalize. It's acceptable to wonder if you've been fooling yourself with comforting beliefs. It's natural to ponder if it's all a load of bullshit. Is there even really a purpose? 

I've done all of the above. I'm sure you have to. Moreover, it's okay to be angry. And it's okay to direct that anger at the energies that called home your loved one, the very same energies we otherwise worship. They can handle your wavering faith, your limitless anger. They understand your soul and the agony you are in. As our spiritual parents, they will carry you while you've fallen and they won't hold resentment when you are ready to stand again. Because the simple truth of spirituality and death is this:

Just as science can explain the process of conception without removing the awe of birth, spirituality can offer us footing but cannot eliminate the heartache of death. There is explanation, there is grounding in your beliefs, but the loss still remains.

Furthermore, being a spiritual person does not mean you never question your beliefs, your journey, or your purpose. I question that stuff all the time. If you're not questioning, you're not learning. And considering we're on a learning plane, there's always more to be understood. Otherwise, your journey would be complete and I'd be standing graveside, a blubbering spectacle garnering stares from bewildered strangers. 

If you've recently lost a loved one or you're still grappling long after a death, be patient with yourself as you process these arduous emotions. Grieving is a long process, and the truth is some losses will never fully heal. They'll become manageable, sealed over with a thin layer of acceptance, but in the quiet hours we still experience the yearning for that special soul that changed our lives.

Even now, two years after that ominous day, there are moments I ache with longing, my eyes well with tears, and my heart feels the weight of his absence. But most days I can celebrate his life, the lessons we learned together, and our bond that is unbreakable, even after death.

Because I am Pagan, and I know that his soul lives on. 

Have you questioned your beliefs after the loss of a loved one? Do you feel grief is under represented in Paganism? 

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  1. Grief and anger are as natural as death itself is. We are temporary mortal things and when we lose someone it *hurts* and it *should hurt* if they mattered to us at all.

    I have a lot of anger towards anyone who uses any kind of faith or spirituality to tell us some emotions are bad or evil or beneath us. I think they are using belief to abuse and control others.

    Death is something I can accept and even value, but I can only do that by leaning into my grief and pain for those who have gone from us.

    1. I like the way you worded "...leaning into my grief." Poetic.

      I agree with your sentiments about emotions. From experience, feeling like something shouldn't be felt only prolongs healing from that particular emotion, grief or otherwise. And there is something unnatural about religions that impress upon their practitioners to be almost inhuman in their denial of negative emotions. It's natural to have moments of anger or sadness, so long as we don't let them consume our lives. Because then we are simply cheating ourselves of happiness. As always, balance.

      Thank you for sharing your insights. Very well said! =D

  2. I'm very sorry for your loss. I've recently been hit with a similar loss, more expanded timeline and more complex relationship. I loved him but he hurt me. Ive done the opposite and suppressed the grief. Any suggestions?

    1. Congratulations on having the courage to leave a toxic relationship. That in itself is a feat.

      The thing about negative emotions is we must process them. Repressing emotions may feel like the only way to cope (which I totally understand) but that's very damaging to our mental and physical health in the long run. In Chinese medicine, repressed emotions will eventually lead to disease. From a Pagan perspective, unprocessed emotions means we haven't learned the difficult lesson, thereby setting ourselves up to repeat the same heartache.

      I can tell you from experience we can't outrun painful emotions. My best advice is to try journaling. This allows you to express yourself without the fear of being judged. You can write uninhibited, letting all that raw emotion out, and you'd be surprised by what revelations can surface as you connect with your Higher Self (your spirit). If you're writing freely, allowing yourself to say what you may be too uncomfortable to say to a friend, you're removing the mental filter we often use in our daily life, which inhibits that helpful and healing voice from our Higher Self. I think that is the most useful place to start. Meditation (especially if you connect with your spirit guide) can also be very helpful and insightful during the healing process.

      Sending you a bit of love and healing. ♥

  3. I think it's a ridiculous expectation for someone to be okay with death of a loved one based on their spiritual beliefs. Just because they believe death is a part of life and isn't the end, doesn't mean they don't feel the pain of loss. To me, one has nothing to do with the other. Losing someone we love hurts. And there are no short cuts with grief; it needs to run its course. Until we learn to live with that loss because it never really goes away. I love how you worded it: we never stop yearning for those special souls that changed our lives.

    1. Definitely no short cut to grief. Would be handy, but that just isn't the case. I suppose that only signifies how important of a lesson it is.

  4. First of all,let me say how sorry I am for your loss...I can't imagine what you're going through. Back in 2017, I lost my dad to Renal Cell Carcinoma brought on by his exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam. He and I weren't close until he became terminally ill in 2015. When the time came to put him in care of hospice, at his home, I would often sit with him while my mom and brother ran some errand or other. I knew his background of having endured unspeakable abuse at the hands of my then alcoholic grandfather, and that,as my mom said 'he loves us, he just doesn't know how to express it'. One moment came that stopped me on a dime as I was sitting with him one day,he watching tv,and I reading required material for the elective Comparative Religions class I was taking while seeking my B.A. in Psychology. He apologized for me having to watch him,saying he knew how busy I was with school...and I told him that it was no bother,I liked it. He said "I'm so glad you come many adult kids don't want to spend time with their parents anymore. You're the best daughter in the world". I had to leave the room to keep him from seeing me cry.

    Apart from my mom, my brother was the biggest and best support I could have ever asked for,and I tried to return the favor by taking him with me when I would do this,that or the other in town,just to get him out of the house.He was born with CP, Asperger's Syndrome,and later, he developed Syncope. Little did I know that after our dad died, he would only grace us with his presence for seven more months before the Goddess decided his spirit should return to Her. I find myself so,so angry at Her and The God for taking him when I need his loving assurances the most. A few weeks ago, I was incredibly angry..fuming...and when I went to sleep, I had a dream that I was sitting in my living room,and a knock came to the door. It was him,and he had no walker,and was able to stand upright...he was healthy again. He smiled,and said "Well,aren't you going to hug me?" I have never,ever wanted a dream to never end as badly as I did that night...sitting with him on the couch,talking...Gods, I miss him *so* much.

    1. What a beautiful dream! It gave me chills just reading it! It seems he wanted you to know he was safe and healthy on the other side. Please don't doubt this was a message from him directly, because surely it was! I hope that dream — nay, encounter— can bring you a little peace and begin the healing process. I'm so sorry for your loss. ♥


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