I struggle to precisely describe the relationship. She's my best friend, sister, spiritual journeyer, soon-to-be aunt to my children, life partner. Her mother passed away last week, and it has been one of the hardest things to watch Jessica have to endure - from the initial shock at the beginning to the disappointing lack of ritual at the end. Our country deals with death in such a sterile, un-spiritual manner. The body disappears and we are left floundering to find closure on our own. She needed something more, and I had an idea.
The evening before the memorial, Kelly took my request and did all the prep necessary to set up a personal ritual for Jessica. She began with a personal cleansing with sage. The sage, held preciously by abalone, was to be lighted and spread all over Jessica with a sacred animal's wing. Each item has its own meaning and purpose*. Afterward, Kelly spent the next hours applying henna to Jessica's left arm and neck. Each symbol she chose had a specific message for Jessica. It became her war paint for the memorial to occur the next day.
Jessica has something ferocious and mystifying about her. Her blood runs purple with royalty, pumping hard and fast. Her body cannot contain her. She deals with her pain honestly, without apology or self-consciousness. As I watched her address the crowd of people present to honor the life of her mother, I marveled at the poise that comes only in the wake of mourning. She has been cleansed by fire, brightened by torrents of tears, renewed by the support of others. I nearly had to cover my eyes for her blinding presence. It feels too sacred, almost embarrassing, too private and pure a thing to witness someone genuinely just BE, especially when that particular state of being is shrouded in the black of mourning.
Her husband spoke words at the end that still send shivers through my bones. He broke through the polite composure of memorial services, and instead lead each individual soul - one by one- through a battle cry, each of us into the wellspring of our own personal grief, not only at the passing of Denise, but also the confrontation of each human with the notion of death.
I've said many times that there is no way to mourn death appropriately. But somehow I feel that, if there were, it would look exactly like how Ben and Jessica do it. Soulfully, honestly, fiercely, courageously embodying the pain and letting it wash through them instead of living in denial or allowing themselves to be comforted by trite phrases and empty promises of an afterlife no one really knows exists.
During the personal sharing of Denise's family and friends, I composed a memorial of my own. I am not one prone to public speaking, but I am one inclined toward the permanence of words.
Denise's passing seems particularly poignant to me as I anticipate becoming a mother. I knew her as a mother, and have always revered and deeply analyzed how she managed this. Jessica spoke highly of her, loved spending time with her, daily connected with her via phone calls, and aspired to be like her. I wanted to see the formula she used to produce such a sustainable mother/daughter relationship. I assumed they got along because she and Jess were like each other. That was not the case - it was Denise and I that had more in common personality wise: Type-A, very organized, deeply mysterious and introspective. That a woman like her could exist having created a woman like her daughter encouraged me so. For instance, I genuinely thought that in order to be a good cook, I had to emulate Jessica's kitchen personality. Denise taught me otherwise - and like so many people said this past weekend - she helped me realize the potential inside of myself. Never doing it for me, only nudging gently and pouring me chardonnay, but still - I love to cook now because of Denise Green. Specifically, she taught me to drink while I cook. Four years ago, I cooked my first soup and all the while sipped a martini through the process, somehow trying to imbibe Denise's spirit itself. Now, each meal begins with the glorious sound of a Chardonnay bottle popping open, a pouring of one glass, and the enjoyment of her presence standing right behind me, imbuing my spirit with cuisinal courage. For the rest of my life, each time I open a bottle as I prepare to chop, dice, and julienne, I will commune with her spirit as I cook for my own family - the far-reaching effects of which no one can fathom. Since food is essential for survival, it seems inconceivable to continue living without Denise, the one who feed us. However shall we manage...
As she lived well, so shall she be remembered well. Cheers to you, DMG.
* Abalone = Emotional protection/balance, Barn Owl = wisdom, seeing hidden things, associated with the underworld, Sage = used for restoring personal energy field, depression, and the expulsion of negativity.