Today is the anniversary of the day my beloved mother-in-law passed away. For this reason, I am re-posting this article in her memory. Gods bless you, Pam.
A photo of my mother-in-law, Pamela, from her first wedding in 1976, along with her urn
I love my mother-in-law very much; she isn’t just an “in-law” in the obligatory sense of the term. Our interactions were a little strained when we first met; Pam was always warm and affectionate, but she didn’t have the best grasp on the concept of personal boundaries at that time. Being raised Catholic, she also didn’t know very much about Paganism, and she thought my beliefs were pretty weird. This was understandable, considering that she’d never met a Pagan before (or at least, not one who refused to keep quiet about his faith). The trouble was that she thought my wife (who was still just my girlfriend at the time) was still Catholic. My wife hadn’t “come out of the broom closet” at that point, and when she finally did, it was assumed that I had somehow persuaded her to convert. The truth was that we first bonded over our mutual appreciation for Seth and Ishtar, and Pam eventually came to understand this. As much as we might have annoyed or even intimidated each other in the beginning, my mother-in-law accepted me as family right from the start.
Though I think she will always be Catholic at heart, Pam started losing interest in the Catholic Church after she divorced her first husband (i.e., my wife’s father). Technically, divorced people aren’t “allowed” to be Catholic anymore; but Pam also wanted to find a church that supported the fight for LGBTQ and women’s rights. Unfortunately, she never found one that was completely on board with her “radical” views. The closest she could find was the Vineyard Church in our area, which happened to have a lesbian pastor at the time. Vineyard later adopted policies that forbade the inclusion of same-sex couples, and the lesbian pastor and her supporters broke off to start a new church of their own. I have great respect for this new church’s efforts to end all exclusionary practices that are aimed at same-sex couples; yet it shies away from fully dismissing the notion that homosexuality is a “sin,” and that’s just not good enough for me personally.
It was good enough for Pam, though, and that’s all that really matters as far as this story is concerned. In the end, I think she cared less about which church she went to than she did about following Jesus and serving Him as best as she could. Not being a Christian myself, I’d say she did a much better job than most. With very few exceptions, most of the self-proclaimed Christians I’ve ever known – the ones who’ve always made a big deal about being Christian – have been very judgmental and close-minded. They seem to have their bases covered when it comes to the Old Testament morality, but they always seem to forget the whole “Judge not lest ye be judged” thing that Jesus was about. Not so with my mother-in-law; even when it came to having a son-in-law who practiced a radically different faith from her own, she always did her best to be warm, respectful and welcoming.
I’ve discussed this before, but there was a time when Pam was sick in the hospital and really needed to use the bathroom. She couldn’t get out of bed by herself, and no one else was around. She cried out to every God she could think of, begging each of Them to make someone come and help her. No one came, and she finally cried out to Seth. Apparently, she then heard Big Red say, “Just go in the bed, lady! Someone’ll clean it up for you later.” And so Pam did, and her relief was apparently so gratifying that she praised Seth right along with Jesus for the rest of her life. Did she really hear Great Seth’s voice? Did He actually tell her to “go in the bed?” I can’t say for sure, but I’m a believer. Encouraging someone to “go in the bed” is definitely something the Seth I know would do, and Pam the born-again Christian had nothing but good things to say about Him afterwards.
Granted, it never exactly made sense to Pam how Jesus Christ and an ancient Egyptian God could both be real and not be enemies; hell, it’s hard even for me to swallow sometimes (even with everything I know about the Greek magical papyri, the Alexamenos graffito, and the Alexandrian origins of blood libel). But she came to accept the idea nevertheless, and it was something that we bonded over very deeply. In fact, it was the only thing I could think of when she passed away right before us, and everyone else in the room wanted me to say a prayer for her. I wanted desperately to pray to my Lord, but I felt like I should pray to Jesus too; not because of any need to “accept Him as my Lord and Savior,” but simply because my mother-in-law would have wanted it.
In my time with her, Pam taught me many things; but perhaps the most important lesson she taught me was just how profound the transition from life to death really can be. She was first diagnosed with breast cancer just about three and a half years ago now. During the years that followed, she fought the cancer tooth and nail. But it was her last round of chemotherapy that started her final descent; she lost her immune system, became sick, and never recovered. The truly shocking thing to me is that when October 2015 began, she was still lucid and intelligible. She needed help getting out from bed and walking around her house, but at least she could look you in the eye and have a normal conversation with you. When I entered her bedroom on the evening of October 13, she could no longer move at all. She also had the briefest moments of lucidity, only occasionally recognizing that her family was in the room with her. She would sometimes speak, and it was clear that she understood what was happening to her; but oh my sweet Seth, the sound of her struggling to breathe was the most horrific thing I’ve ever heard in my entire life.
During those final hours with my mother-in-law, I sat beside her bed and held her hand as much as I could. She awoke every now and then, frightened, and each time I would tell her, “We’re all here, Pam; your daughters and your husband are in the living room, your sisters are on the way, and I’m right here beside you. I’m not going anywhere.” Then she would squeeze my hand and go back to sleep. Later that evening, I told her that I loved her very much, and that I was truly glad to call her my mother-in-law. The last words she would ever say to me were, “Me too, honey.” Then, at 2:25 PM EST on Wednesday, October 14, Pam took her final breath and left this Earth forever. That was when my wife, one of her aunts and a close family friend all begged me to say a prayer. I was silent at first; then I put my hand on Pam’s still-warm forehead and told her to go with Jesus, that Seth would protect her on the way, and that she would now be honored forever as one of our sacred dead. My eyes were stinging with tears, but thankfully I managed not to sob.
Pam’s funeral would not happen for two and a half weeks. (She was cremated, so there wasn’t any need to hurry.) This is because Sister Tina’s wedding was scheduled for Saturday the 24th, and Pam (being Tina’s aunt) didn’t want her funeral to interfere with that. So the funeral was postponed until October 30, appropriately enough. (I will avoid going on a tangent about Tina’s wedding right now; all I will say for the time being is that it was a smashing success, and that I’m very happy for my sister in Seth and her new husband.) To be honest, having the funeral hang over our heads for that long probably didn’t help. But at least the next night was Halloween, which we spent lighting candles for our ancestors. It was really sad adding Pam to our ancestor shrine, and my wife almost didn’t want to do it at all. But we’re both glad that we did. Then, for our anniversary this year, we went on a week-long cruise to the Bahamas. (I’ll avoid going on about that for now too, but I will say that this was a wise decision on our part, and that getting away for a while was very helpful.)
It wasn’t until a month after Pam’s passing, Tina’s wedding, Pam’s funeral, Halloween, and our cruise to the Bahamas that I was finally able to collect all of my thoughts about what’s happened. It’s still hard for me to believe that my amazing mother-in-law – who was truly a force to be reckoned with, and in more ways than one – is actually gone. I keep forgetting that I can’t just call her up on the phone whenever I want to, or that she won’t be coming to Thanksgiving or Christmas anymore (or at least not in the way we’d all prefer). I’m trying really hard to remember her as she was when she was still healthy and happy. This is actually much harder than I would have expected, for I find myself fixating on how she looked and sounded during her final hours. I know this will probably go away in time, but it’s still pretty disturbing, and I can’t really talk about it with my wife (for completely understandable reasons, of course).
However, it’s not all bleak and dark. The one thing that’s made me really happy this past month is the fact that our family has dealt with this tragedy much better than we ever could have hoped. For one thing, Pam faced her death very bravely; I pray that we will all face our deaths just as bravely. For another, there were many people in our family who were estranged from my mother-in-law due to certain things that happened several years ago. Thank Seth, Ishtar and Jesus that these individuals were all willing to put that stuff aside and support the rest of the family when we needed it most. I’m also very proud of my wife, who is still grieving, but who has continued to live and to find good and happy things to keep her invested in this world.
As for myself…well, something about me has definitely changed. More people in our family are starting to accept me as a minister and priest. First I was asked to offer Pam a “last rite” of sorts; then some of her sisters (all of whom are pretty uber-Catholic) turned to me for comfort and advice; then I wrote and officiated Sister Tina’s wedding, for which I received some astounding compliments from people I’ve never even met before. Hell, even my brother – and I mean my genetic blood brother, to whom my mother gave birth in 1990 – reached out to me and asked what he might do to start celebrating Halloween a little more seriously. I’ve already known I’m a priest of Seth for years, but it’s only now that my spiritual occupation is being taken seriously by almost everyone I know (even by people who refused to accept it just a few short years ago).
Hail, Pamela; may you forever be counted among the saints of Jesus and the nobles of Seth.