Grandmother is dying. When she passes from this word I shall be alone. She lays in her bed, looking small and for the first time I’ve ever realized, frail. Grandmother was old, but she was a fierce woman, strong willed, sharp tongued, and I worry that I shall never be these things. The villagers of the town respected and feared Grandmother. Though we lived in the forest they would bring us food, clothing, trinkets, in exchange for Grandmother’s wisdom in all things. She knew who should marry whom, she could settle disagreements. Women would come for help with having babies, men would come for help in marrying women, and all would come for my Grandmother’s healing touch.
“You stand at a crossroads, my dear,” Grandmother whispers to me between spoonfuls of broth. She has taught me much over the years, the medicinal properties of herbs, insects and animals. How to be kind to the forest, obey the Earth Mother and ask for her gifts when brewing potions or salves, to befriend the elements so they may aid me when needed. “I have tried all these years to train you as my apprentice but I have always noticed a wandering spirit within you. Serving the villagers as their soothsayer may not be in your destiny.”
“I do not want you to go,” I replied. In all my years with Grandmother I’d never seen her cry, but it seemed my tears flowed freely. I had heard the villagers refer to me as being ‘soft.’
“You have a kind heart, it is what I saw in you as a small child, may everything I have taught you, serve you well. Goodbye Granddaughter.” She exhaled and didn’t inhale. I nearly dropped the bowl of broth in my panic as I realized she was gone. I did not want it to be so. I took Grandmother’s hand, searching for the drum beat in her wrist. It was silent, tears were streaming down my face as I tried to give Grandmother the Breath of Life, to bring her back.
“No, don’t leave me! Don’t leave me alone!” I shouted through tears and a runny nose. I hugged Grandmother to me as if my will and heartbreak could bring her back. The warmth of her body left long before I released her. I cried until I was certain I had no more tears left. I slowly laid the little old lady back upon her bed. Straightened her black gown and placed her veil over her face before covering her body with a sheet. I pulled out Grandmother’s sewing kit and began to turn the sheet into grandmother’s death shroud.
When I opened the door I was surprised to see the villagers standing outside Grandmother’s little hut. They stood there, the men with their caps in their hands, the women with small bouquets of flowers. I had no idea how long they had been there.
Gasik, the village elder, nearly as old as Grandmother stood in front of all the others. His head had gone white, then completely bald, wrinkled and liver spotted. He and Grandmother had always had a mutual respect for each other and sometimes I had the romantic notion that perhaps Grandmother and Gasik had a fling when they’d been young.
“We have built the pyre for Entia,” he said calling Grandmother by her name. He indicated a wooden altar far enough away that it would not ignite the surrounding forest. I hoped my gratitude showed on my face as I was too distraught to say anything. With my permission several village men carried Grandmother from the hut and laid her gently onto the pyre. Gasik offered me the lit torch and I laid it down on the altar. Fire and smoke rose into the sky, I silently offered prayers to the Earth Mother that she would watch over Grandmother’s spirit and grant her a place among the stars.