13 September 2019

Death Takes its Own

Welcome to the first post from the Death Walkers of Spirit Haven. We're a newly formed
Society that has come together to explore and honour the work of death. We each come from
different backgrounds and different perspectives, and we're still formulating exactly how we will
serve this community, but we're going to begin with introductions and explanations. In the
coming months, you'll see us speaking about our own histories, our approaches to death and
death work, and our plans as a Society. If you're interested in joining, we have a Facebook
group (Death Walkers of Spirit Haven) and will be hosting our second Society meeting at
Samhain of 2019.

Death Takes its Own

or “How I Became A Grief Priestess”

Submitted by: Rowan Badger

What a lot of people understand in the practical sense, but frequently don’t grasp in the spiritual
sense, is that death chooses its own. We all have some experience with someone that physical
death took from us when we would have willed it otherwise, but when you get into talking about
death work, death magic, and grief practice, there tends to be an expectation that those who do
it sought it out.

I was never the sort of girl who hung out in graveyards; I can count the number of black clothing
items I owned in high school and college on the fingers of my hands easily. Hallowe’en was
about candy, and mostly still is for me. A lot of the people who know me casually would have
no idea, looking at me or even talking to me, that I’ve been doing death work for more than a

In the early part of 2004, I got the devastating word that my best friend had been in a car
accident and lay in a coma, over a thousand miles away. Every night for weeks I roamed every
plane I could, looking for her spirit to help her find her way back home. I never found her, but a
few days after word came that there was no more brain activity and life support was ending, I
awoke before dawn with a profound sense of peace and completion. Minutes later, the phone
rang with the final news.

Later that year, notice came from my father about my great-uncle, a man who had been like a
grandfather to me: If you want to see him, go now. My mother and I made the cross-state drive
together, offered tacit goodbyes in a sunny nursing home courtyard, and drove home trying to
pretend we hadn’t seen the shadows gathering around and inside him. A month later, he was
gone. So soon upon my friend’s death, it hit me harder than it otherwise would have, and when
a community to which I was connected lost a much-beloved member to tragedy and violence,
that pushed me over a precipice of grief I have no functional words to describe.

I remember almost nothing of that winter, except a soul-deep anguish I carried everywhere I
went. I spent months simply locked into a pattern of mourning. Imbolc came and went, casting
small rays of hope into the spring, and I followed them out of my darkness.

It was a few months later, the first time it happened. Sitting quietly in a coffee shop, I looked up
to find a stranger sitting at my table. “I don’t know who else to talk to,” she said. “What do you
do when you can’t stop missing someone?” She’d lost someone important to her, far too young,
and we sat and talked through her grief, through her pain. Somewhere along the path that
leads through mourning, she’d made a misstep and found herself unable to move on. Gently,
slowly, I guided her steps and gave her a gentle nudge. I never saw her again, but I assume
she found the way back to where she needed to be.

After that, it became a regular occurrence. In the grocery store: My daughter died five years
ago, when will I stop being so angry? At a bus stop: I hope you don’t mind me talking to you,
but I’ve got to take my mother off life support today, and I needed a friendly face. Over and
over: I don’t know why I’m telling you this, but thank you so much for listening. They just kept
finding me, the ones who could not find a way through their own loss, and each time I would
stop, and listen, and offer what wisdom and signposts I had. Each time, they carried away a
small piece of my spirit to light their way. It was nothing I couldn’t spare, but there it went.
I had toyed with the idea of serving as a priestess, but had taken no steps toward it, and it
became clear over the next two years that a path was being laid out and offered to me. Finally,
one night as I sat chatting with an online friend, he asked to call me. Said he just wanted to
chat without text. We laughed, we joked, and...suddenly I found myself heart-deep in the death
of his father, walking with him as he faced and laid to rest demons of incredible pain and loss. It
took hours, and by the end of it he was weeping uncontrollably. He told me, “Thank you, I had
not cried since my father died.” It had been over thirty-five years; his father died when he was in
elementary school, younger than his own youngest child. That night tore a hole in my spirit
almost larger than I could bear.

When I hung up, I sat at my altar and explained that I was not refusing the work, would not turn
my back on it, but could not serve without a balance to replenish. The voices of the grieving
went quiet, and I thought that my request had been refused and the work had been taken from
me. Then, I was asked to officiate my first wedding, and on the flight home I explored the
questioning space in my heart and I agreed that yes, that would serve to mend the balance, that
as long as I had the work of life, I could do the work of death. Not long after, a timid mourner
found his way to me, and through me back to his own way forward.

There are many faces to the work of death. My province is Grief. I’ll offer no platitudes and I
can’t assure you that anyone is in a better place; we all get the justice in death we never saw in
life, for good or ill. I walk the paths of loss, eyes and heart open for those who cannot find their
way, who cannot understand that grief is the final evolution of love, the final distillation of a
spiritual connection, and that its purity is sacred. My gift is the ability to show the beauty in loss,
to hold space and offer permission to experience that loss without expectation, reservation, or

judgment. We do not, in this world, always give tragedy its full import; I carry within and around
myself the space to do exactly that, to give voice to the weeping howl until it screams itself to
peace and the work of living begins again in the following quiet.