Decluttering Quest: sacred spaces

Decluttering Quest: sacred spaces

It’s been a long time since I last talked bout my “Decluttering Quest,” or my attempt to sort out the massive amount of stuff that’s accumulated in my life over the years. In the time since my last post about it, I finally finished going through all the keepsake boxes in the basement (which I’ll try to revisit in a future post) and moved on to the final stage: cleaning out my bedroom.

I had a plan for how I was going to go about it. First I’d tackle the piles of stuff taking over the floor, then I’d dust everything off (which I haven’t done since the last time I tried to clean my room, and if the stuff on the floor is any indication, that was two MAGFests ago), then I’d rearrange the books and reconsider everything else on the shelves and side table.

But then I got stuck. Every time I tried to clean the floor, more stuff would accumulate there. Even worse, stuff started spilling over into the space I’d been specifically trying to keep clear so I could access my main altar and akhu shrine. “I’ll start doing ritual again once I clean the stuff off the floor,” I kept saying, but the weeks dragged on and suddenly it was time for a holiday I wanted to celebrate: the Beautiful Festival of the Valley. I wrote about my preparations for this holiday in my last blog post, but when the day actually came I still couldn’t access my akhu shrine.

Let’s clean everything

Even though I managed to reach the offering plate to place the little vase full of roses I’d gotten for the occasion, I felt frustrated that I couldn’t do more. So I took all the dirty clothing that had accumulated in the cleared floor space by the shrine and threw it in the hamper, then washed my hands and grabbed the feather duster.

For the first time since setting it up the previous year I cleaned the akhu shrine from top to bottom, carefully dusting each item and setting it aside, then shook out the altar cloth and dusted the whole area underneath. After putting everything back I lit all the candles (both battery-powered and real) and set down the vase of flowers again.

What surprised me afterwards was how good that simple action made me feel. It felt like I’d finally made an effort to show respect for that long-neglected aspect of my practice, instead of just letting the guilt over doing nothing consume me. Although I still felt nervous about whether I was doing the holiday “right” or not, it finally hit me that in this case, doing it wrong was still better than not doing it at all.

Spiritual decluttering

So when I woke up today, I decided to finally do something about my altar. I wrote before about my altar in my post on “shrine envy,” which for the most part was set up by Seventeen-Year-Old Me while she was “basically stumbling along in a New Age haze trying to figure out what the hell she should be doing, basing most of her answers on what people on Neopagan forums had to say.” As a result, my altar – and my spirituality – didn’t turn out so well:

To put it bluntly, this altar is a mess. So much so that I’m too embarrassed to even post a photo of it. It’s like a visual representation of everything that was wrong with me and my practice at the time: it’s completely unplanned, it mixes things from various areas/traditions that have fuck-all to do with each other, and it puts way too much emphasis on stuff instead of the gods I was supposed to be worshiping.

Because my religious practice slipped off its shaky and materialistic foundation a couple years later, I never really made an effort to fix the mess I’d made. When I finally picked my practice back up a few years ago I was living away from home, so I was able to start from scratch with a nice little shrine box instead. When I moved back home I assumed the stay would only be temporary, but as months turned into years I realized that I couldn’t keep counting on moving away to fix my sacred space.

And as I went about dusting my altar and everything on it today – which was way overdue – I started to think about each piece in terms of decluttering. Only this time, I wasn’t just decluttering my room; I was decluttering my beliefs. Did I still need all these random natural offerings? Would putting them somewhere else really change my relationship to the gods that much? And what about all the little Buddhist items I’d tried to incorporate into my altar all those years ago? Did those have any place in my practice now? Again and again, I answered “no.”

After all the unnecessary stuff was gone, I reorganized everything. Keeping the lotus tealight holders was an obvious “yes” for me (because the lotus is an important symbol in the Kemetic tradition and because they looked prettier than bare electric candles), but the way they’d been arranged on the front of the altar made it almost impossible to place any offerings there. I moved a lot of the smaller natural items and ritual objects into a cedar box and placed my plastic sistrum on top so it was easily accessible, and other items and permanent offerings were arranged in the remaining spaces on the sides of the altar. The icons of the gods were all arranged on the antique butterfly tray so they were the new visual focal point.


My new altar looks a lot more “bare” than the old one, with a lot of open space in the front center than before. But that’s exactly the way I want it: now there’s plenty of room to set down temporary offerings, which are a more important part of the way I practice now.

Maybe it’s not as pretty or coordinated as other people’s altars or shrines. Maybe the icons are smaller and don’t look as cool. Maybe it looks like I couldn’t afford all the fancier ritual items other people can. But it works for me, and that’s the most important part. Although the altar isn’t enough in itself – it’s what you do with it that matters – I feel like the new layout will help my practice a lot. If nothing else, now I can focus on the deities I’m supposed to be connecting with, instead of all the other stuff.

More in the Decluttering Quest series:

Part 1: The Quest Begins
Part 2: Staying Motivated
Part 3: School Paper Trail
Part 4: Tackling Collections
Part 5: The First Roadblock
Part 6: Letting Go of Old Writing
Part 8: Breaking the Rules
Part 9: A Matter of Life, Not Death
Part 10: Cataloging a Personal Library

The Beautiful Anxiety of the Festival

The Beautiful Anxiety of the Festival

“Would roses be too much?” I wondered, staring at a display of already-decaying white rose bouquets in the supermarket. They were only a few dollars, but I wondered if putting white roses on my bookshelf might draw too much of my parents’ attention to my akhu shrine. “On the other hand, I did used to buy roses when I visited my fiancé’s grave, so…”

I’ve written before about my still-uneasy relationship to death, and how I set up an akhu shrine (or a shrine for the blessed dead) in spite of a whole mess of doubts about the afterlife and concerns over whether the people I’m honoring would be cool with the whole thing. What I failed to mention before was the associated mess of fears I have that I’m not doing this whole akhu thing “right” and that it’s contributing to my status as the Worst Kemetic Ever™. And the whole massive ball of doubts/concerns/fears was recently dragged up by an impending Kemetic holiday.

Beautiful Festival of the Valley

According to the calendar I generally use, this upcoming Friday is the Beautiful Festival of the Valley (or “Beautiful Feast of the Valley,” as some others translate it). Basically, in antiquity it was a “celebration of the dead,” a time to visit the graves of dead loved ones to pay your respects and leave them flowers blessed by Amun. It was one of a couple of festivals honoring the dead that modern Kemetic practitioners still try to celebrate.

The tendency for families nowadays to scatter all over the place (and be buried accordingly) has made visiting all your loved ones’ graves in a single day nigh-impossible for some (including me). This, I think, is a major reason why many Kemetics have created shrines for their blessed dead: it gives them one central place to pay their respects, leave offerings, and do rituals if they choose.

Akhu shrines comes in all shapes, sizes, and configurations (as a quick Google image search will prove) to suit the needs and desires of each practitioner. Many include pictures of the dead loved ones being honored. Mine doesn’t. Part of this is an issue of space for me, and part of it is a desire to keep what I’m doing relatively private. (…Says the person writing a blog post about her practice.) For both of those reasons – as well as a desire to avoid an item acquisition frenzy – both of my shrines err on the side of minimalism.


My akhu shrine

As the picture above shows, my akhu shrine only consists of a white cloth, a small box decorated with stars (mimicking some tomb paintings I’ve seen), four candles, and a small skull carved out of lapis lazuli. The skull represents everyone I’m honoring. I picked a lapis one because of associations between the stone and the starry night sky; “akh” (plural akhu) is sometimes translated as “shining one,” and in one of the envisioned versions of the afterlife the akhu join the stars in the sky. My shrine my be simple, but I definitely thought that shit out.

But what about those fears I mentioned earlier? Well, in spite of all the thought I put into constructing my akhu shrine, I kind of stalled out when trying to plan how to actually use it. Again, I didn’t know what most of my dead loved ones would feel about honoring them in a Kemetic context (to say nothing of what my parents might think), but my culture also doesn’t really have its own tradition to draw from when it comes to honoring the dead – outside of just visiting a graveyard, that is. And I don’t want to steal another culture’s way of doing it just because it seems convenient or “cool.” So no, you won’t be seeing any sugar skulls in my akhu shrine anytime soon.

So basically this leaves me trying to feel this whole thing out as I go along, combining research with what “feels right” for what I’m trying to do. This most often takes the form of me anxiously asking myself “Am I doing this right?” and myself responding “I DON’T KNOW.”

Would roses be too much?

Which brings me back to the Beautiful Festival of the Valley. Since I’ve missed basically every other holiday since Wep Ronpet (the beginning of the Kemetic year, mid-July), I told myself I wasn’t going to miss this one – especially since my work schedule happened to give me that day off. “Maybe this will give me a chance to make up for not knowing what to do for my akhu on a regular basis,” I told myself. So I read up on it a bit, trying to plan out what I could do myself. Flowers? Offerings? Maybe even ritual drunkenness? Yes, I could do all of those.

Cut to me back in the supermarket. It’s the only place left in town where I could get real flowers, since the local florists had all gone out of business. Standing there, I debated getting fake flowers from the craft store instead, but decided against it since I’ve cut corners far too often with “fake” offerings (in Kemetic thought the image of a thing can have the same magical properties of the thing itself, hence all those elaborate tomb and temple paintings depicting piles of offerings). There’s only a couple holidays honoring the dead a year, dammit; I could afford to get real flowers for them.

“But would roses be too much?”

Maybe not. Roses would be nice, and they’d show I hadn’t completely half-assed this. Besides, roses are one of the only flowers whose smell I can stand; ironically enough they’re the only floral smell that I don’t associate with funerals. I don’t want to be reminded of losing these people in the first place. I want this to be a happy celebration, a way of recognizing that my dead loved ones are still part of my life, in one way or another. So yes, I think I’ll get the roses.

Now to figure out the ritual drunkenness part…

Spring and Chaos (and a few life updates)

Spring and Chaos (and a few life updates)

Sorry for the long radio silence. A lot’s been going on the past month – I’ve been meeting a lot of new people (both socially and professionally), absorbing a lot of new information, and going to new places. A lot of this happened because I finally started my new job in a public library.

Long and frustrating commute aside, the new job’s been a lot of fun. I’m not entirely sure how much I’m allowed to blog about it yet, so I’ll just say I’m finally finishing up training tomorrow and will be sent to my permanent library branch next week.

Pictured above: not my branch

One of the great things about my new job is that it gives me both access to a lot of books and time to read said books, so books books books. Also, movies – including a pleasantly surprising number of John Waters films that I hadn’t seen yet. Oh, also! I got the chance to briefly meet John Waters recently too, at a book signing. I’m not good at the mouth words when I meet people whose work I like, so I didn’t say much, but it was still fun.

Anyway, I’ll spare you the yammering about all the stupid new crap I’ve been buying now that I finally have a paycheck again (mostly footwear) and skip ahead to something marginally more interesting.

News on the writing front

I’m writing new stuff again! That may not sound like much, but even with all the free time I’ve had, literally the only non-blog writing I’d been working on for the past few months were edits for my book – and even those were few and far between. Now that my free time’s more focused, I’ve had not one but TWO new project ideas to work on.

One, which will be more of a long haul, is sort of an adaptation of Shakespeare’s plays Henry IV Parts 1 & 2 in a modern American context. I say “sort of” because it’s not going to be a direct adaptation; it’s going to be more of a non-partisan political comedy (if such a thing can exist) centered on a former president’s daughter who’s trying to run for a lesser national office herself when she’s suddenly visited by her former best friend from her wild anarcho-punk days, who needs help.

Admittedly I was originally going to make both characters men as in the original plays, but fuck it, we have enough stuff about men already. I hope I can pull it off, but more importantly I hope I can pull it off without pissing off my anarchist and punk and anarchist punk friends in the process. (Then again, most of them appreciated the “Punk Magician” skit so…)

The other project, which I’m hoping to finish in the next week, is a little short story about working retail – but in a magical store. Basically it’s one of those “the little shop that wasn’t there yesterday” situations, but instead centered on a minimum-wage cashier working in such a place, who becomes determined to actually help a dissatisfied customer who wants a refund. I’m hoping to submit it to a couple writing contests, so maybe if I’m super lucky (and good) I’ll get an honorable mention. Fingers crossed!

Well, that’s all for now. Hopefully I’ll have something more interesting next time.

Decluttering Quest: letting go of old writing

Decluttering Quest: letting go of old writing

They were taking up space. They were draining me emotionally and creatively. They needed to go. There was only one problem: they were my old unfinished manuscripts.

I’ve heard that some writers have no problem culling their own work. After all, ruthlessness is a crucial part of self-editing, and editing is the key to good writing. But in spite of how easily I can cut a sentence or scene or chapter that isn’t working – and how easily I’ve been able to let go of much of the stuff I’ve encountered in this decluttering quest – I tend to hoard my old writing.

During this process I came across whole drawers and boxes packed full of writing. Much of it was innocuous stuff, multiple copies of poems and short stories – the remnants of years of creative writing classes. In those cases, the solution was clear: keep one or two copies of each thing, or the final class portfolio if there was one, and let the rest go.

False starts and creative drain

But things weren’t so clear when I stumbled on the manuscripts of the first three books I tried to write. (The one I’m working on now, Unlucky Creatures, was the fourth book I attempted and the first one I actually finished.) The first one I decided to keep; it had been fifteen years since I last worked on or even seriously thought about it, and as awful as it is to actually read, I’m as sentimental about it as a parent is about their child’s art projects.

The second and third ones, however, were just depressing for me to even look at. The second book was crappy fanfiction masquerading as historical fiction which, while kind of nerdily adorable, was just embarrassing and didn’t have much material I could salvage for other things. It was both awful and useless. The third was about a mental breakdown I had in my late teens, written while I was still in the midst of the breakdown. (ProTip: don’t write about a major mental upheaval while you’re still in the middle of it. You need at least a little time to process things and get the right perspective.)

Finding the drafts and notes for the third book really depressed me. Part of this was the fact that they were reminders of a really low point in my life, and part of this was guilt over abandoning the book to begin with. It was a project I’d worked obsessively on for a few years – everything I wrote during that time was for this book – and still only half of it was written down. In the end I had to leave it behind for my own sake, which was a hard decision.

As I looked over that manuscript I also realized that even though I’d put that project down almost seven years ago, it was still negatively affecting my writing. Every time I decided to set aside a story or book, even temporarily, a voice in the back of my brain went “Oh great, it’s the third book all over again.” And even though I had no intention of finishing that book, I still found myself withholding ideas from my current writing because part of me felt like I had to “save” them for the third book instead.

Outside help

Even though the negative energy surrounding these manuscripts was clear, I still hesitated to get rid of them – even though I still had all the digital files for the third book. What if I regretted it later? What if I realized I could make them work somehow? It was incredibly unlikely, yes, but still more likely than the idea that someday somebody else would have a strong desire to look at them.

Once I started to consider getting rid of it, I started to feel even guiltier over the third book than I had before – but for different reasons. That book was something that my late fiancé had been a part of, reading through it and encouraging me to continue; would throwing it out be like throwing him out? I knew the idea was absurd, but it still held me back.

So finally I decided I needed somebody neutral to help me decide, somebody who I could explain all my feelings to but who wasn’t invested in these projects – my partner. He agreed to help me out, so I packed it all up and brought it along with me when I went to visit him this past week.

stack-letters-letter-handwriting-family-letters-51191Imagine this, but crammed into a backpack.

After I got there I showed him everything, explained how I was feeling, and asked him what he thought I should do. “Let them go,” he said. I still hesitated, and he continued, “You already know it’s the right thing to do.” He was right, of course. If I hadn’t wanted to get rid of them, I wouldn’t have lugged them along on an eight-hour-long bus trip to hear the answer that, deep down, I already knew he was going to give.

One by one, the packets of paper went into the recycling bin. Once they did I had no desire to retrieve them. In fact, I almost cried with relief. It felt like I’d finally freed up a lot of space – not just in my desk, but in my mind. Finally, I could focus completely on my current work instead of feeling guilty over past work.

Maybe someday I will regret throwing those manuscripts out, but I can’t make all my decisions based on future regret. That writing’s gone. It’s time to make more.

More in the Decluttering Quest series:

Part 1: The Quest Begins
Part 2: Staying Motivated
Part 3: School Paper Trail
Part 4: Tackling Collections
Part 5: The First Roadblock
Part 7: Sacred Spaces
Part 8: Breaking the Rules
Part 9: A Matter of Life, Not Death
Part 10: Cataloging a Personal Library

Happily complicated

Happily complicated

It’s funny how even major mental changes can feel like they aren’t “real” progress.

See, it’s been more than two weeks since my last post, and it feels like I haven’t accomplished much in that time. While I’ve been able to straighten up one of the rooms I’ve decluttered, my work on the keepsake bins has ground to a total halt. Every time I think about resuming, I feel a sense of dread over what mental nonsense I might uncover. But that’s not really the kind of thing I can effectively write out of my system in a blog post.

Cleaning house

So until I can sort that out, I’ve been working on some other sectors of my life. One new change is that I’m making a real effort to take better physical care of myself by paying more attention to nutrition and exercise. My body’s felt a lot better since making this change and it’s improved my mood somewhat too.

I also recently had a self-acceptance breakthrough that has been a long time coming. To some of you that probably doesn’t sound like much, but anyone who’s struggled to actually accept themselves as they are knows how big of a deal it is. Much like the beginning of my decluttering quest, I recognized for the first time what a tremendous weight I’d been carrying and could finally set it down. I’m breathing easier, I feel happier, and the anxiety I’ve been struggling with for years feels a little more manageable.

e77c71defc73b414fe4d8f8afa1c2620Basically me right now, except what I got was way better.

I was going to say that this breakthrough wasn’t a result of any of the bigger recent changes in my life, but I realized that’s not true. In fact, a lot of the smaller changes I’ve been making have been inspired (in one way or another) by my new-ish romantic relationship, which has completely upended my life.

I’m not saying that to be like “Suck it, single losers!” – it’s just that, well, letting another person into your life complicates things in a lot of unexpected ways. It’s like letting someone into your home. Maybe they’ll track in mud or bring in flowers. Maybe they’ll lock you in a closet and throw a party without your permission and leave a big mess. Or maybe they’ll come in, see a big mess, and say: “Hey, want me to help you clean this up?” You never know which one it’s going to be.

This time around, the complications have been good. They’ve been forcing me to question a lot of my assumptions or reframe the way I’ve been thinking about things. More than anything, letting someone into my life has made me realize what a mess it was and forced me to try and clean it.

Sometimes I feel nervous about where this whole thing might end up. But in a way, being nervous is good – it means that something is at stake. Things may be more complicated now, but complications aren’t always a bad thing.

Decluttering Quest: the first roadblock

Decluttering Quest: the first roadblock

Two days ago – after going at this for a solid month – I hit my first big emotional roadblock in the decluttering process.

To be honest, I’d expected it to happen a lot earlier. It almost happened while going through the box of high school stuff (where awards and old standardized test scores filled me with the fear that I’d wasted my potential) but talking things out with my mom cleared my head and I was back at it within an hour of stopping. But instead it happened while going through something completely unexpected: old greeting cards.

I suspect now that it wasn’t the cards themselves so much as it was two other things. One was a buildup of a lot of thoughts and emotions I’d been suppressing through the whole process, about crushed dreams and past traumas as well as lost friends, pets, and relatives. I also saw clearly for the first time how I’d talked myself into believing that I was terrible at things I was, in reality, good at and used to enjoy – art, drama, music, poetry, math, tech, and science – and wondered if I’d ruined my own life as a result. But did I let myself feel that? Of course not. I had work to do.

Feel the feels

It reminded me of a Lemony Snicket quote I’ve always liked about how refusing to entertain a certain idea is even more dangerous than refusing to entertain a pack of wild hyenas, “because nobody knows what an idea will do when it goes off to entertain itself.” Ignoring all these unpleasant things hadn’t made them go away; it just pushed them to a place in my mind where they could wreak all kinds of havoc until I finally paid attention to them.

I do this over and over yet, somehow, every time I’m surprised that the result is always the same. “What’s happening? Why am I so upset for no reason? WHO PUT ALL THESE TEARS IN MY EYES?”

So for both you and me, I offer this advice: if you’re sorting through old things and find yourself overwhelmed by emotions, stop and let yourself feel them. Take a break and have a good cry. Do whatever you need to do. The important thing is to just sit with these emotions and see that feeling them won’t cause the end of the world. If you think you don’t have time to do that, consider this: how long will you need to walk away from this when your feelings inevitably catch up to you? Trust me, it’s much more efficient to stop and cry for an hour than it is to stop for a whole day so you can recover from a total emotional meltdown.

One size fits none

I mentioned earlier that I suspected two things were at play when I hit that emotional roadblock. The second thing was my reliance thus far on outside advice to get me through this process.

If you’re anything like me, the first places you go when you need specialized advice are either Google or a book on the subject. And when it comes to advice, both sources are probably fine. The only problem is that a lot of decluttering advice seems to use a one-size-fits-all approach. Do this with books. Do that with mementos. Keep just the best example of anything. Reduce everything by a certain amount. If you’ve looked for decluttering advice, you know what I mean.

But every problem is different. You’d think that would be obvious, but it wasn’t something that occurred to me until I was going through that stash of old greeting cards. They already seemed to have been carefully selected – if not by me, then by one of my parents. Unlike almost everything else I had gone through, these hadn’t been kept indiscriminately.

20170208_131835There were only enough cards to fill one shoebox – if that.

All the advice I’d found for dealing with greeting cards hadn’t taken a situation like that into account; they were written as if the person hearing it had never thrown away a single card in their entire life. And yes, that does happen. But when you’re facing a batch of carefully curated cards, “throw everything older than a year away” or “cut them up and reuse them in crafts” doesn’t make a hell of a lot of sense.

For some reason, I felt like I had to follow the advice anyway, as if there was some invisible authority waiting to judge my efforts. But I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Not to the school valentines from friends I’d long lost touch with. Not to the “get well soon” card from my late grandmother. Not to the silly birthday card written by my mom as if it had been sent by our two now-dead cats.

I started to get angry at all the bloggers I’d taken advice from. Who the hell did they think they were, anyway? They couldn’t tell me what to do! So I had a mini-meltdown on Facebook for all my friends to see. (The phrase “disgustingly perfect minimalist monsters” entered the fray at some point.) Eventually I calmed down and decided to take a break from the whole project for a day or two until I got things back into perspective.

What I’m getting at is this: apply decluttering advice with caution. Including my own advice. And including the very piece of advice I just gave you. There’s no such thing as a single answer to fit every situation.

Keep the cards if you want to. I know I will.

More in the Decluttering Quest series:

Part 1: The Quest Begins
Part 2: Staying Motivated
Part 3: School Paper Trail
Part 4: Tackling Collections
Part 6: Letting Go of Old Writing
Part 7: Sacred Spaces
Part 8: Breaking the Rules
Part 9: A Matter of Life, Not Death
Part 10: Cataloging a Personal Library

Rounded with a sleep

Rounded with a sleep

For a long while now I’ve been trying to come to terms with mortality – both my own and others’. This process probably started with my fiance’s sudden death back in 2009, but it was something I was still in denial about until friends and friends-of-friends (most of whom were my age or younger) began dying as well. No, I’m not planning on dying anytime soon, but I can’t keep pretending like I never will.

Unsurprisingly, confronting death brings up a lot different issues, and trying to come to terms with it has fundamentally changed the way I’ve been thinking about these things. To spare you from a meandering, navel-gazing post, I’ll try to untangle a few of these issues and address each one individually.


Ah yes, the big one. Every religion known to humanity has tried to address this issue in one way or another. The one I personally subscribe to (Kemetism, which tries to reconstruct the religion of ancient Egypt) has not one answer but several. This is unsurprising since – to my understanding – the original religion was kind of cobbled together from several different local traditions and, when faced with two conflicting versions of the same thing (like the creation myth), basically took a “FUCK IT LET’S DO BOTH” approach. That, combined with the fact that the original religion was around for thousands of years and experienced some changes along the way, means that there really isn’t one definitive answer for what happens after you die.

I’m not nearly knowledgeable enough to go into all those changes in thought and funerary traditions, or even summarize them adequately. I hate to leave you all with the vague impressions you probably have of mummies and elaborate tombs and “maybe something about weighing your heart against a feather,” but I really don’t trust myself enough to handle this right and instead advise you to look it up yourself if you’re curious. It’s interesting, I promise.

800px-bd_huneferIs it wrong to wonder if Thoth uses an iPad now?

In spite of my religion’s firm assertion that you definitely go somewhere after you die, I’m really just not sure about it myself. If there is something good after life, that’s great. I guess if it turns out there’s nothing, then I won’t know anyway. Worst case scenario would be that it turns out that I picked the “wrong” faith and, instead of encountering Anubis, I’ll be greeted by another religion’s deity shouting: “OHHHHH! NOW YOU FUCKED UP!” (Or, fourth option, my heart is heavier than the feather of Ma’at so Osiris is the one shouting that I fucked up.)

But in spite of my severe doubts, I did set up a shrine to the blessed dead a few months ago. I’d been resisting it for a long time, mainly because of my uncertainties about what my (mostly Christian) lost loved ones would think of the whole thing, but watching many of my friends struggling with grief over losing one of their friends several months back finally pushed me to do it. I guess doing so was one of my ways of dealing with the whole death question in general; it felt right to set aside a physical space in my life to acknowledge that sometimes the people you love just die, and there’s nothing you can do about it but remember them.

What we leave behind

Coming to terms with my mortality was also one of the big reasons why I began my decluttering quest a month ago. If I accepted the fact that I’m going to die someday, then I also had to accept the fact that I’ll be leaving all my physical possessions behind for someone else – most likely my family – to deal with.

I thought back to my childhood, when all of grandparents died within a few years of each other and I watched my parents struggle through house clean-out after house clean-out. Anyone who’s never done or witnessed one of these firsthand will have to trust me when I say it’s a physically and emotionally draining process, especially when you’re already struggling through grief. And the more stuff you have to sort through, the more draining it is. All of my grandparents grew up during the Great Depression, so they saved anything and everything that might ever be useful out of the fear that someday they’d need something like it and wouldn’t have the means to replace it. You can probably imagine what their basements and attics looked like.

The thought of putting my parents through that again if I died before them – forcing them to sort through twenty-some years’ worth of hoarded keepsakes, papers, journals, plushies, books, and unfinished writing projects – made me sick to my stomach. It’s a major reason why I’ve kept this decluttering quest going, even when it’s gotten tedious or emotionally exhausting; I’d rather take on that burden myself than leave it to someone else.

Seeing death

I guess what really prompted me to write this post in the first place was the fact that my family had to euthanize our beloved cat of 13 years earlier today. I won’t go into all the details about him and his battle with cancer here, because I can’t even begin to unpack all my thoughts about him right now.

One thing I will talk about right now is this: I’m glad I stayed for the whole procedure. See, when a pet is euthanized, you have the choice to leave at any time if it becomes too overwhelming; you can also stay if you want.

As I’d thought everything over after my mom and I first discussed the real possibility of putting our cat to sleep, it occurred to me that I’d been cut out of the actual deaths of all my lost loved ones. Sometimes it was deliberate, like when I was a child and nobody wanted me to be traumatized by watching a pet or relative die. Other times it was accidental, like when I was away at school when our other cat was euthanized two years ago.

I began to wonder how much of my lingering fear of death came from never seeing it. After all, isn’t it always the things we don’t see that we fear the most, like the invisible monsters under our childhood beds? So for that reason – and because I wanted to be at our cat’s side until the very end – I decided to stay in the room through the whole procedure.

For the first time in my life, I saw what dying looked like. (Of course all deaths are different, but I saw what at least one kind of dying looked like.) And it wasn’t scary. It was peaceful. One moment our cat was breathing, and then he wasn’t. It seemed natural.

Death as a part of life

And that’s what death is: natural. All living things eventually die. I think that’s what gives our lives beauty and meaning – the fact that they end. Because we die, we all have to make the most of life, both our own and others’.

If you have just one takeaway from this post, I want it to be this: try to accept death. Learning to see death as natural isn’t morbid; it helps you embrace life. (If you haven’t heard of it yet, check out The Order of the Good Death – it’s a group dedicated to helping people face their fears about death so they can learn to accept it.) I don’t know if I’ve fully accepted it myself, but at least thinking about it has helped eliminate some of my fears about death.

If you aren’t ready to confront death, that’s okay too. No judgements here. But I do hope you will be able to try it someday – it’s a hell of a lot better than living in fear.