I will survive this initiation too.
The last time I see her, my 92-year-old grandmother’s body winces when she smiles. Momo can only give a ghost of her former laugh. She whispers to every nurse who comes in her room that I am her firstborn grandchild.
I feed her small bites of a Chewy Trail Mix granola bar. Her hands tremble constantly.
I never want to stop touching her warm paper-soft skin, pulled tight and purple over her bird bones. I rub oil made from avocado and vitamin E on her nail cuticles. We listen to the whooshing pulse of the oxygen machine. She does not want the doctors to do anything for the mass in her lungs.
She is ready to go.
She is disappearing over the last threshold. I hold her hand and the hole of loss is yawning beneath me. Old age is the most honest form of leaving.
Death is never simple.
I am learning a new way to say goodbye. I hate the lesson.
Momo has always treasured the bright and spicy. She taught me adventure. I often felt like an exile in my childhood, but never with her. We have the same name, Gerri. She is mine in a way that no one else ever was.
“I love you more than you know,” she says.
My chest caves in here.
Life brings initiation to all of us.
Even in modern times, events, losses, illnesses and accidents change us irrevocably and become our initiation rituals.
“Humans are not fully human until they’ve gone through some ceremonial rebirth.”
~ Thomas Berry, Cathoic monk and author
Initiation is one way of coding archetypal experiences as death/rebirth journeys. Seeing a life transition as an initiatory crossing can become a vital perspective on change, pain and suffering, to give it meaning.
This is something that we have traditionally done to help each other help each other hold a big picture and pass wisdom from the more experienced to the less experienced members of community. A traditional initiation in many indigenous cultures would begin with a symbolic death and culminate in a rebirth ritual.
There are initiations that we choose to go through, with mentors and challenges that we can understand. We find work, become artists, get married/divorced, have children, seek education, train in spiritual traditions.
There are initiations that choose us and we often don’t understand what is happening until we are deep inside it, or possibly on the other side.
We get hurt, fall in love, lose people, places and things, get the hell out, heal and change ourselves.
You may be in the midst of an initiation right now.
The ancients teach us that there are simple parts to an initiation process and sometimes they even happen in order. There are variations in all our stories, keeping it interesting and unpredictable but there is also a path laid deep for us to follow.
Initiation starts when nothing feels like it used to—there was a shocking event—you’ve lost something real.
Something beyond your control put you on the path.
This can be the lonely place, the space where no one understands, where you feel swallowed, burned or tattooed by sadness and suffering.
You found the truth of it, you went deep, you opened it, you shed every layer. You kept growing, moving, changing. It seemed like it would never end.
And then you died, you met that dark figure at the threshold. That tall dangerous being who blocked your way, that timeless barrier who would not let you pass.
Something prehistoric and infinite opened on the inside of you. You were kissed by the universe. You were led home.
On the other side, they didn’t recognize you. You were gifted somehow. You carried the gifts of this independence from the norm. You owned this more than you have ever owned anything.
Maybe we become stronger, more true versions of ourselves after that passage. These initiations are often the place we begin to speak, write, sing or make art from.
People are hungry to hear about what we have understood in our struggles, when we stopped hating the lessons and alchemically blended them into the humans we are now. We need to know how others have survived.
It is said that whatever doesn’t kill us, helps us become stronger.
I survive when my grandmother leaves, but this initiation is close to my skin.
I needed to write the grace of her—the way she taught me love can be easy, untangled, free.
I wanted Momo to enter her next great adventure, released from all anchors.
I swear to share the gifts she passed me, linked in our shared spiral DNA song. I pray she felt my love: limitless and supporting her journey towards the ancient opening.
I believe in rebirth, mine, hers and the ones that await us with every initiation.
Author: Gerri Ravyn Stanfield
Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock
Photo: courtesy of the author