Crossing the Bridge

“Rosemary, that’s for remembrance.” – Shakespeare

Earlier this year, I did a Crossing the Bridge ritual. I stood in front of a roomful of people that I didn’t know, that I had only met briefly, and said that the woman whose ashes were in the small box in front of me, covered and surrounded by flowers, had crossed to the Summerlands. “The Horn has sounded for her. The Wheel has turned”, I said, and it was true. Yet, I did not know them, or know her. How could I speak words of comfort?

2 months earlier I had been sitting in a hospital room, holding the hand of a woman that I had only been able to speak for a few minutes, quietly chanting as she collected herself to make that final journey to the other side, knowing that this is what she wanted, not to be alone while she made the final jump, but knowing that none of her family or friends were in reach, that they would come too late to say anything more than goodbye.

Death is hard to deal with in our culture. We fear it and try to sanitize it. I don’t know whether our forebears who had to deal with it up close dealt with it better, but I think it may have been more real to them.

I have sat in too many hospital rooms, with relatives, friends, total strangers, even one of my own children, holding a hand, being the link with the rest of humankind, of Life.

Perhaps I am the quiet voice, perhaps I am just a receptive ear, but I sit, and listen, or talk, or chant, or just sit silent as requested, listening to the beeping of the machines and the quiet bustle from the area outside the curtains or the door and the breathing of the person in the hospital bed.

I have listened and watched as the shadows creep up to the person that I am with. Sometimes they recede, but sometimes they do not and the Wheel turns into the Dark.

This is a hard time. Sometimes family and friends are there, and for the one who is Crossing, this is a good thing, but sometimes those who remain behind don’t know what to do, or to say. They fumble for words, and go silent, or weep or even scream at the realization that heart monitor has begun the long beeeeeeeeeeep that signals that the Spirit has left the body. All I can do then is to say, “I know,” and hold or pat or weep with them.

Sometimes the need for hospital routine or medical intervention to try to hold onto the person throws everyone from the room. This is even harder, although there are places for people to wait and sit and hold together .

Once, that was my lot, to sit with my father when hope was fading that he might be able to hold on. The injuries he had suffered were mortal. That was becoming obvious as the early morning wore on. He was fighting to keep going. My mother was trying to keep my brother from going into hysterics. He couldn’t handle the thought that our strong, hearty and healthy Dad could be too damaged in body to go on. He couldn’t even come look at him, knowing that Dad was not likely to be able to hold on much longer.

I sat by my Daddy, thinking of all the wonderful things we had done together and told him bits and pieces when I could speak, although most of the time my grief was choking me into silence. I was holding part of his hand, only two fingers, all that I could touch without causing him pain.

I told him, “Daddy, if you’re holding on because of us… We’ll be alright. Mom’s with Dwight and I’m here with you and we’ll all hold together. If you are ready to go, well, we’ll miss you, but it’s ok. We’ll take care of Mom. I could feel him squeeze my fingers, and then he relaxed and I could feel him start to slide away from me, faster and faster, not with any sense of dread, but the way he had always been when we rode on our sleds, grinning with anticipation, and then just as the long beep started and the attendants came rushing in to do what they could, I was chased from the room.

I walked down the hall to where Mom and my brother were and the sliding feeling stopped with an internal sense like the “thrummmmmm” after an explosion in a movie. Then I heard for one last time his big, beautiful belly laugh. Not with human ears, no, because his breath was gone from his body at that point, but I heard it.

I put my hand on Mom’s shoulder and quietly said, “I think he’s gone,” and that’s what the doctor came and told us in a few minutes.

That is why I can say, “I know.”

It’s not easy to have to let go of someone, but that memory of my Dad’s laugh has kept me going for years, and kept me going when I’ve had to tell others that the one they loved most in the world has gone for good. He laughed as he Crossed the Bridge! What a wonderful thing!

I stood in the room where we were having the funeral service for this woman that I had met with only briefly, but at a time of Passage. I was doing the ritual at the request of her children who were still arguing five minutes before we started about whether this type of ritual was appropriate.

The one daughter said, “This would be what Mom wanted.” The one son said, “She was a priestess, too.” The other daughter said, “But she ought to have a funeral at MY church!” She finally gave in and the ritual started.

These things are never easy. I like to have people who know the person who has Crossed read favorite poems, or passages from books, sing a song, or something. I usually end up doing the eulogy which is often just bare, bald facts. Born here, this year, went to school, married, had such and such a career, won thus and so awards, had so and so many kids, died….

This time, I told them how the few words that we had exchanged had gone. I knew she was Wicca, like myself, and when I came into her room with the nurse she opened her eyes and smiled and whispered, “She says you are a Priestess? Can you sing me across? I don’t want to go alone.” So I did.

How much do you have to know about someone to do them that service?

Thankfully, not much, but I found myself thinking about her and wondering as I sat there during several long hours, where I grew very tired. I got up every so often and got some water and came back. I knew that I was doing what she needed…wanted, but I got tired and I got hoarse and I got sleepy, but I kept going….and then it was over. I had done what she asked of me.

At that point in the service I invite those who are there to come and add rosemary to the bouquet that is with the ashes. Many people do this silently, some weep, some say goodbye, some say something else, but one that spoke really caught my attention. He walked up to the altar, put his rosemary sprig into the bouquet and very firmly said, “I *hate* you. Thank you,” and then walked away. No one there knew who he was or what that was about and he disappeared right after the service, so they’ll never know.

An unfinished story…

And yet, it brought me to a new thought. None of us really knows everything about those around us, even those we love. When someone Crosses the Bridge there’s always some unfinished business. What comfort can we give when all those possibilities are ended?

What we can offer is what we all share. Grief, shared pain, that it’s ok to weep, that we’re not alone. Sometimes all I can say is, “I know,” and that is enough.

Page created and published 3/5/21 (C) M. Bartlett
Article (C)2009 M. Bartlett
Page last updated 5/26/21