witch“Tis a fearful thing, To love what death can touch”                                                                           (Judah Halevi)

Today I hear stories about the baba yaga or “vedma”.

This is something I never heard about as a child, but I immediately understand
the horror she must inspire in the hearts of children.  I’m told the baba yaga is a shriveled old crone, who flies through the air on a mortar while navigating with a pestle; she lives deep in the forest in a whirling dervish of a hut that is balanced on bony chicken legs with windows like eyes, and strange things in the cupboards.  Although this gnarled old woman with freakish grey hair is meant to terrify, they explain to me some consider her also wise, and the guardian of the fountain of life and death.   Ivan laughs evilly (if this is even possible with his sweet smile and twinkly eyes) and says, “She hasn’t gotten me yet”, which inspires Katrina to shake her finger at him and scold, “You’re not going because I can’t be here without you”.  Ivan is not fearful, but doesn’t want to leave quite yet.

These unveiled comments seem like glaring fist shaking at the vedma.  You can’t have him.     No, not yet.

My next visit is with a woman who has dreams of loathsome things, dark objects that inspire stabbing fear during the night.  Her suspicion-filled eyes glance around the room. 

Sometimes we use medications that curtail “hallucinations” and sometimes
I realize the shuddering terrors that we learn as children are the precursor to
the unspoken perils we face as an adult…We share so many common fears: when my children were young, I worried something could happen to me before they were grown.  Now that they are grown, they worry that something will happen to me before they are old.  Fears prey on us, no matter our years in life.

I have had a lot of practice watching the dying process, which shapes my
perceptions and maybe even skews my view of things a bit. Perhaps the
experience of seeing death visit in so many ways makes me believe that in the
end the baba yaga of our childhood is just a little old woman, wizened up and
not pretty to look at, but full of wisdom and only planning to guide us through
the forest, through the dark places, into the light.

Like Howard, Kathy, Bill and Lisa and so many others, who shared with me the visits that their dead mothers and grandmothers made to them in those “dreams” before they breathed their last breaths…those visits weren’t scary to them.  Those aged, well-worn and loving hands were reaching out to show them the way…

About Amy Getter

This entry was posted in end of life care, telling stories and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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