I first met my wife in an online Pagan discussion forum during the autumn of 2008. It was only about a year later that we met in person, fell in love, and decided to spend the rest of our lives together. We lived as an unmarried couple for three years, and then we got married on November 2, 2012. We chose this date specifically because it is the third day of Samhain (or All Souls’ Day, if you’re Roman Catholic), and we figured this might increase our deceased grandparents’ chances of attending the ceremony and reception. Since the wedding, we have accumulated plenty more happy Samhain memories for our little family as well. But one of the most monumental things to have happened was the passing of my mother-in-law, who joined the ancestors just before Halloween 2015.
Pamela wasn’t just an “in-law” in the obligatory sense of the term. Our interactions were a little strained when we first met. She 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 “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). Though I think she will always be Catholic at heart, Pam started losing interest in the Catholic Church after she divorced her first husband (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 Church 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, but it shies away from fully dismissing the notion that homosexuality is a “sin,” and that’s just not good enough for me personally.)
But in the end, I think Pam 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 Christians I have met. 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.
One 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 there was no one else around. She cried out to every god she could think of, begging them to send someone to help her. No one came, but then she remembered Set, and she tried reaching out to Him next. She then heard a voice say, “Just go in the bed, lady! This is a hospital! Someone will clean it up for you later.” And so Pam let go, and her relief was so gratifying that she praised Set right along with Jesus for the rest of her life. Did she really hear the Red Lord’s voice? Did He actually tell her to “go in the bed?” I can’t say for sure, but crassly encouraging someone to “go in the bed” is definitely something the Set I know would do. Furthermore, Pam the born-again Christian had nothing but good things to say about Him after that, and this to me is pretty strong evidence that her experience with Him was authentic.
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 this idea sometimes (even with everything I know about the Greek magical papyri, the Alexamenos graffito, and the Alexandrian origins of blood libel). But Pam came to accept the idea nevertheless, and this was something that she and I bonded over very deeply. In fact, it was the only thing I could think about when her daughters and her sister begged me to say a prayer for her while she was dying, riddled with cancer in her bed.
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 can really be. She was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012 or so, and 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 of 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 Set, 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 October 14, 2015, Pam took her final breath and left this earth forever. That was when my wife, her sister, and one of their aunts begged me to say a prayer. I was silent at first; then I put my hand on Pam’s still-warm forehead and said:
My eyes were stinging with tears; but thankfully, I managed not to sob.
It’s still hard for me to believe that my mother-in-law—who was truly a force to be reckoned with—is actually gone. Even after all this time, 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). But it’s not all bleak and dark. The one thing that made me really happy through all of this is the fact that our family 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 with as much courage as that amazing woman did. For another, there were many people in our family who were estranged from Pam due to certain things that happened long before I came into the scene. Thank Set and Jesus that these individuals were willing to put that stuff aside and support each other when they needed it most.