The weaving is complete, and tonight the shroud makes its home with me. I met Melanie earlier today to receive it from her generous hands, and reflect on the project we began over a year ago now. We recalled our big goals, which had included outreach to 3 communities through learning circles as the shroud was being grown, processed and woven. These were:
Local growers, to encourage them to return cloth-making plants to our fields
Death workers, to support their advocacy for and use of earth-honoring body disposition materials and practices
Fiber arts students who want to learn the skills of processing flax and making cloth.
And then, a pandemic. Gone was the possibility of collaborating with emerging partners to host the learning circles, and leveraging the momentum created at those events to identify people who wanted to dig deeper on specific aspects of our goals. Still, we grew and harvested a field of flax on the Warren Wilson campus, and hosted 2 outdoor learning circles to teach the skills of processing this beautiful fiber plant at Melanie’s home. In conversations with circle attendees and Melanie’s fiber arts students at WWC, we discussed the need to realign our dysfunctional Western cultural views of death with the natural cycles of the earth and promoted the use of earth-honoring body disposition practices, including the use of locally-grown shrouds.
And while we didn’t revolutionize our fields to include cloth-making plants, or create demand for a local textile mill, Melanie and I see seeds. In the last few months, I’ve opened the Death Fellowship, which provides a year-long supported journey in asking the natural world to be our teacher of grief and death. Fellows are invited to prepare a container for their body’s remains, which could include the making of a shroud. And two of the Fellows are death doulas, interested in how a realignment with the natural world could support their work with dying people.
Melanie has connected with the Piedmont Fibershed, which is actively working on the goals we sought of returning flax to our fields and reintegrating its use in our communities. She’s been contacted by or seen posts about people who have this same idea of growing their shroud. From leaning in and watching our project, her partner has begun studying grief and integrating it into his work as a psychologist. She’s added a hemp warp to her loom, and has transformed her lectures and workshops to seat students more deeply in understanding ourselves to be expressions of the natural processes of the planet.
When we began, we had moments of trepidation about being overtaken by the project’s momentum, believing our energy to be finite. This came from old thinking that the energy originated in us, and belonged to us. From watching this energy emerge in many ways and many places, to remake the commons with a death culture that truly feeds life, our old understanding of its source is dead – never to stultify us again. We are not alone in this work. We do not have to do it all by ourselves. What wants to be, will be.
Since its weaving was completed, my shroud has been asking for a vision of how its flax threads will be finished. In incubating that request, three Mourning Cloak butterflies came to me on a deep woods wander. On August 22nd at the Art as Ritual event here in Celo, we will integrate a pandemic’s losses and griefs through art and ritual, and as one of the workshops of the day, my community will begin embroidering the shroud to transform it into this butterfly, so that it can someday become a chrysalis for me.
What will be, will be.