A most holy death: burning and rising and the pathway home

{tomorrow, in the moments just before midnight, I will turn 40.  And tonight, as is my practice on the eve of my birth, I spend the night with myself and my candles and my whiskey and my words.  Marking the passage in the way that is most true for me – by laying down a piece of my story} 

Santisima Muerte. A most holy death

Like most of us, she goes by many names.

santisima muerte Señora de las Sombras, The Bony Lady, Niña Santa, Lady of the Seven Powers, Lady of the Night.

I call her grief. I call her bone truth. I call her hard ground and the map to the mother. I call her the breath of memory shivering along the back of my neck. I call her the road to survival.

I know her well. You do too.


It was as if all of the grief, delayed for seven years, came to being all in a single day.

I called it a knowing and understood it as a return to faith. And then it was done.

Oh yes. I had known grief before. And for things far bigger than this.

But this? This was loss without distance. This was the culmination of all of the losses that preceded. And in many ways, all the ones my bones knew were yet to come.

This was me, all the walls and defenses down.

It was in me and over me and all around.

This was the levees breached and the wall of ocean rushing toward everything in a giant wave.

And no doubt, she took me out.


They arrived that night. The night of the ending.

My friends.

And they brought gifts. Orange juice and champagne for midnight mimosas as the day turned at the On_This_Day1midnight hour and my birthday was here. They brought hand painted masks to tie around our eyes so that for a moment we would be both known and unknown. They brought silly things like rainbow stickers. And they brought her.

Santisma Muerte.

A most holy death.

Yes. That it was.


There are many deaths. So many endings. I have learned an intimacy with the language of loss and grief – explored the small collection of words I have been given to speak of such things. Studied them and held them to the light and tumbled them around in my mouth and hid with them inside of the shadows.

In many ways, they have become a sort of home.

Loss, it is in me and of me and all around.

Grief, I find fluency here, where the muse dances with ghosts – deep within the flickering candlelight.

And I have learned, through this exploration, a holy reverence for the endings of things.

Yes, there are so many deaths.

If not so, how would we be reborn?


We lit the candle that night. In the corner of the patio outside the front door of my small city apartment.

There she was, The Lady Of The Night, a light in the darkness, the pathway home.

If terror falls upon your bed
And sleep no longer comes
Remember all the words I said
Be still, be still, and know.

She was my guide that night. She was my guide in many nights to come.


She has her origins in La Parca – the grim reapress – of medieval times. In her hands she holds two things. A globe and a scythe. The whole wide world and the blade that is the ending of things.

The scythe then, for the moment of death – for cutting the thread. But Santisima, she is also known for love magic. Ritual involving red candles and red roses and rose water and cinnamon.

Love and death – they are hard to untangle sometimes, both with the same disrespect of borders or boundaries or plans.

She is a saint for the outcasts, for those in the margins. The ignored and overlooked are her flock. Protection. Justice. Safe passage for the dying. With her, death is holy.

She has her altars desecrated. She is condemned by the Vatican.

Devotion then, becomes another transgression.

We often fail to understand those that speak of death. But you see, Santisima knows what we do not – the power of endings is the power of beginnings. Every time.

There are many endings, and there are many deaths. And all of them, in a way, holy.

And in this death, on that night, Santisima Muerte, she lit my passage. We came to know each other well, the bone lady and I.


The next night, as my birthday came to a close, I lit all the candles and filled the space with the music of my grief and sat writing at my kitchen table.

In some ways, in all the ways that mattered – I still believed she would come, show up at my door. Tell me it was all a mistake.

I still believed.

Of course, she would come.

Somewhere around midnight there was a knock. And I answered, my heart walls collapsing against hope.

It was a homeless woman. Mentally ill. She was blonde and dirty and had seen more hard edges than I’ll likely ever know. She stumbled in from somewhere in the back alley. I don’t remember what she wanted. It didn’t matter.

Death comes in so many forms.

I was not afraid. Santisma Muerte watched the whole thing, burning in her own way, against the black of that birthday night.

I poured whiskey and lit a cigarette and sat on my patio. My head fell back and I breathed in a new knowing. And then I kept vigil with the light.


It got worse before it got better. Autumn is often like that. The rabbit hole, I call it. She calls to me with her siren song. Some years I’m strong enough to ignore. Others I take the trip down, down, down.

These are, always, the months of my losing.

But still she burned. For three weeks. Unwavering light.

What passed between became more than light and symbolism. Somewhere in those weeks there was a shift into somewhere deeper. Something like devotion.


Santisima Muerte. To her devotees, you know, she is not just death. She is healing. Protection. A safe path to the afterlife.

How many ways do we die? How many times?

We are supposed to keep our grief quiet. Hidden. Tucked inside, proper. Respectful, not to what is gone, but to the others who must bear it.Copy of peacelovefree.com

To bring devotion to this. To name it and own it and keep the death flame lit – this is not how it is supposed to be done. And yet – it is exactly this that delivers us to the other side, to the fullness of grief, to her gifts and her knowing.

This is the lesson of Santisima Muerte.  This is what the bone lady knows.

And so I bought another white prayer candle. And another. And another.

For a time my entire patio was lined in prayer candles. An endless flame that lasted seasons and storms. A continuous light in the dark. A pathway home.

And then it was not necessary anymore. The reverence had been given. The death complete. And even the rising.

These are not separate things, you know.


Two years have passed. And I find myself again here tonight, facing the autumn.  Facing my 40th birhtday. Facing what comes.

This is the season of my birth. This is the season it all slips away.

It has always slipped away.

Jeanette_LeBlancAnd the night deepens. And the candles are lit. And the whiskey is poured.  It’s all honey and burn, just like the sweetest of falling in love.  The music plays. It is the eve of my birth.

This birthday, the close of a decade that has been near constant transition.  Burn and Rise.  Break and Become.  Love and love and love and loss just the same.

Tonight it is bones and the ache and the reminder of all that has passed through my hands – by choice and by chance. Despite grasping, despite wishing, despite knowing and hoping and the desperate edge of want.  Tonight is an honoring of regret and of the hard-won path of my own integrity.  Tonight is for blessing what is and giving thanks and walking into the unknowing of what is to come.

And here, inside this night, I make peace, again and again with the fullness of this life. With the truth of my story. With the echoes of love gone that live in my muscles and joints and right there right in the pause where inhale becomes exhale.

And Santisima Muerte, she once again lights the way.


If you, tonight, are in the midst of a dance with one of the millions of deaths that this life holds, do this.

Go buy a prayer candle. Burn it for Santisma Muerte. Burn it for what is gone. Burn it for what is to come. Keep it burning to light the passage, both of what is leaving, and for you, walking the path home to yourself and to what comes next.

Endings and beginnings. Darkness and light. Devotion and Transgression.

And you, with stories carved into your bones. Heart pulsing true. A chest full of holy love and holy death.

You and me and Santisima Muerte. Holding it all. Lighting the way home.

Holy. Holy. Holy.



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