Sunday night, I passed out on the love seat watching DVR'ed shows with my husband, as I frequently do. I was woken up to a sobbing husband at the computer, about six feet away, with the words, "Andrea! It's Bronwen!" Jumping up to the computer, I saw Aaron had his Facebook account on the screen, and on Bronwen Forbes' wall one of the two status' showing read, "Bronwen is dead." Twenty minutes later, a second status was posted explaining that my dear friend and long-distance mentor had passed away about an hour ago from a heart attack induced by the chemo she had been receiving to treat breast cancer.
Anger. Downright anger is the first thing I could feel through the tears. As my husband and I embraced, all I could do is cry out, "This is bullshit!" and "This is NOT how this was supposed to happen!" What the fuck kind of a world do we live in where the very thing that was meant to help you is what cuts your thread too short? It would have almost felt better if the cancer would have just taken over and the doctors would work to make her last months more comfortable. Almost. At least there would be a chance at a proper goodbye.
We chatted last week via Facebook. I finally had the chance to tell her that the Pagan discussion group I am heavily involved with had been using the events we coordinate to raise funds for the National Breast Cancer Foundation. Bronwen is a published author, and we wanted to sell her books at our events as well, so I went to her asking for the best channel to make this happen. I also let her know that I was finally putting together my application to attend massage therapy school. Having been a recent student in Wisconsin herself, I probed her for help on the financial aid side of the process. The closing of our conversation went like this; "I think about you guys often, and miss you SO MUCH! Maybe next year when I'm better I can come up for the event -- you're only about 6 hours away. p.s. I think you will make an awesome massage therapist. Our local cancer support center offers free massages to people in treatment."
I begrudged myself for a while, frustrated that our last conversation was pretty much about money. I was quickly corrected in realizing that the conversation was really about transformation and taking on a new chapter in my life. "Find the magick in the mundane," I was told. I now agree.
'Hero' was never really a word I thought to use to describe Bronwen. There is a long list of adjectives out there, not the least of which would be wise, witty and caring. We both share a love of writing, though I don't spend nearly enough time showing it. We love dogs, though I wish I had more time for the one I have. We both love to teach, though I'm working on learning more that I eventually can share with others. And we both take extreme pride in our families. She was basically where I could be if I started to use my time more wisely.
There are plenty of women out there with these qualities, I'm sure, but what makes her my hero? It was despite the fact that she knew so much and that she had been so much further down the path than many of the people she knew, she never acted like it. Bronwen never once laughed at how little I knew about some of the topics "Good Little Pagans" should know. She never belittled me for my immature stints, despite being nearly my mother's age, nor did she criticize me for how I handled various personal situations, even if she didn't wholly agree. In fact, she helped me learn to just shut up and follow my gut. She had faith in me, which gave me confidence.
The Thursday night before her passing, it was the night of our bi-weekly discussion group; ESP (the Eclectic Sheboygan Pagans). We basically had a divination show-and-tell, where everyone brought their favorite divination tools, from Tarot cards to pendulums to runes. One woman in the group had brought her pendulum, with a cloth to be laid below on the table. The cloth had Magic 8 Ball-style answers like "Yes" on the left and right, "No" at the top and bottom, and varying things like "Rephrase Question" at the corners. The point of the cloth was to let the pendulum swing in whichever direction to answer your questions.
I started with questions regarding my potential options for massage therapy school. Throughout the session, the pendulum shook in very odd ways. You could clearly see her hand was very steady, and she gave her arm extra support with the opposite hand. Eventually, the woman doing the reading said she felt someone standing behind her. It was a warm feminine presence. My first instinct was to start asking if it was one of a small handful of women who have passed that I was close to. Each option was met with a "No". Another person in the group observing said, "Maybe it's someone who's not dead." Instantly, I blurted, "Bronwen, are you sleeping?!" Yes. The pendulum changed from an up/down motion to left/right.
At that point the woman doing the reading needed to put her hand down. She said that she felt a hand touching her right shoulder, and you could physically feel that side was warmer than the left. That night, while discussing the experience with Aaron, I explained that it was very cool and all, but divination is far from an absolute. Maybe it was Bronwen, maybe it wasn't. You may be reading this, thinking it's all a lot of hooey. I have no intention of changing your mind. But I'm going to follow the advice of a wise woman. Shut up and follow my gut. It was her.
I actually wanted to send her a Facebook message to see what her Thursday night felt like. I never got to it. To say I don't regret that fact would be a total lie. I haven't wasted much energy on this regret, but it's there.
The handful of friends in Wisconsin who had the honor of knowing Bronwen have been coping in their own way. My anger has finally waned, so I've moved on to being productive in my mourning. As I previously mentioned, she loved to write and teach, so during an unemployed phase around the time of her leaving Wisconsin, she wrote a series of essays for the popular Pagan website The Witches' Voice. I found that you can search for essays by author, and am working on compiling them into a booklet, not only for memorial purposes, but for my own education. There was some good stuff in there, and it would be a damn shame to let that knowledge go to waste. I found great joy in the fact that chronologically speaking, the first essay was of one of my favorite early-learning tales, involving nearly burning the house down.
I have every intention of following through on my plans to sell Bronwen's books at our events, as well as raise funds for breast cancer research. I am honored by the fact that Bronwen's last book, 'The Small-Town Pagan's Survival Guide: How to Thrive in Any Community' (set to be released in June) may have snippets of an interview with me in it. I had heard about the plans to write this book while she lived in Wisconsin, and she asked me to do an over-the-phone interview after moving to Missouri. Even if I'm not in there, it's an honor to know that she had something to learn from me. I have a few other things up my sleeve to keep Bronwen's memory alive, and they will come eventually.
There are few people in this world I strive to be like, namely my father and grandmother. They both have qualities I admire and try to remember on a daily basis. However, Bronwen is a person I see myself striving to be like as completely as possible...without getting to creepy about it. I can see her modestly lowering her head with honor and thanks. And chuckling through a tear or two about the "creepy" comment. She gave the best bear hugs. Ever. And I am grateful, blessed and honored to have been part of her life.