Elena looked down upon her father’s face, its lines so familiar to her, yet so empty now. The grief in her heart ached through her body, overflowing in the tears that streamed steadily from her eyes. One last time she reached down and cupped his cheek with her hand. “Goodbye moonlight.”
The accolade rolled from her tongue, its counter summoned in her mind though his voice could not speak it anymore. “Goodbye sunrise.”
The pain of her loss threatened to overwhelm her, and she knew she could not stay that flood for long. She rose and took up the gathered pieces of her mourning gift, rowan branches, rose petals and acorns. Symbols of strength, love and life, to carry him back to the Maker, and return his flesh to the earth. She arranged them over his body and set to the task of covering him.
A stirring nearby drew her eye, and she saw a great grey wolf standing at the edge of the trees. Grune. The animal had become a near constant companion for her father over the last several years. Though he would come to her if she called, they had not formed a relationship as deep as that between her father and the wolf. Elena continued her work, the wolf was welcome, but she would let it mourn in its own way.
As she worked, her eye drifted to the willow tree that grew to her side. Her heart ached more as she remembered when she and her father had laid her mother there, so many years ago.***
“It is time sunrise.”
“I can’t papa. I can’t say goodbye.” Elena, still a child, barely in her teens, buried her face in the blankets of her bed already wet with her tears. Her father, his own grief fresh on his face sat on the foot of the bed behind her.
“I know it is hard sunrise, but we do not say goodbye for her, but for ourselves.” He reached his hand over to Elena, gently petting her hair. “She is gone to be with the all father, and there to sing for him for all time. We remain here and have only her memory, until we must take that journey beyond. In saying goodbye we acknowledge that she is gone, but also that she is a part of us in our memories, and in our hearts.”
“I don’t want just a memory papa, I want her. I want her hand on my cheek and her voice in my ear.”
“I know sunrise, my heart wants that too, so much.” Elena could hear the hitch in his voice as he tried to encourage her, while hurting himself. “But now we must make our own song. We must sing her song but without her voice. Can you bring her song with your voice Elena?”
As Elena lay upon her bed, the loss of her mother heavy on her heart, her papa began to sing. His voice was low, like the deep mountains and the autumn leaves. She could hear those things in his voice. Yet he sang the song of her mother. Elena knew that it was her mum’s song as she heard it, though the melody had never graced her ears, for it brought to her mind all the things that her mother loved: stars shining in the night, the fireflies dancing and butterflies. At once it made her want to cry the more, and yet it called to her to sing, to join the song of her mother.
Elena raised her head from her sorrows and looked into the tears of her father as he sang for her mother. She drew in the music, burying it within her heart, and then let it rise inside her to be released in her own voice. The chorus of their two songs carried out over the valley that was their home, dancing over the grasses, skipping across the waters and ascending over the mountains. They carried that song with them as they rose, weaving the life of their beloved as they walked out into the autumn evening and laid her to rest in the earth.
Already her father had dug a place and laid the now empty body into the earth. Nearby, Elena saw that he had gathered the items that would be their mourning gift. A bed of autumn leaves he spread over and around her, surrounding her with color. Elena carefully laid a cluster of grapes between her hands, a reminder of summer’s sweetness as winter beckoned. Both of them took seeds from the willow and spread them across her body. When all was ready they covered her in earth, and then together they called to the seeds of the willow, encouraging them to grow.
The power of their magic flowed through their song, and the seeds answered the call. Despite the cool of the season, the earth soon broke from the small reaching shoots. Steadily they grew, rising to the sky and Elena and her father wove them as they grew, the several trees growing now into a single small sapling. Once it was well established, they released the tree, allowing it to return to its normal rhythms. Elena and her father held to each other, their shared song still playing in their voices, though now soft and low, and they walked slowly back in to the cabin.***
Elena’s voice once more filled the valley in mourning, as she sang for her father like she’d sung for her mother. This time, though, only one human voice was lifted, but her song was joined by a deep and lonesome howl from the trees. Grune, the grey wolf that was her father’s companion, mourned with her. She filled her heart with bittersweet memories, and she could hear in her voice the thrum of earth and crunch of autumn and the silvery light of the moon, all those things that she associated with her father. Soon a small oak was growing next to the now tall willow and Elena carried her grief as she went back to that bed where she’d cried for her mother, her father’s mourning song now playing soft in her voice.
The new morning dawned cold upon her the next day, its tendrils reaching under her blankets to chill her flesh, as if to match the chill of her heart. Out of habit and duty she drew herself from her bed, donning her cloak and pulling it tight about her. In the hearth she rekindled the previous night’s fire, banishing at least the chill of the air.
Half-heartedly she ate, dining on a bit of bread and dried fruit, but it did not satisfy, and she left it after only a few small bites. Aimlessly she paced about their small cabin, wandering in the familiar spaces, but it felt almost alien without her Papa. She settled finally at a window, looking out onto the valley, seeing the early signs of spring on the way. It would be time to plant soon, time for new life. Somehow Elena could not bring herself to want it. She felt like staying in winter.
The day warmed and Elena continued in her routine, emerging from the cabin and tending to the animals in their small barn and pens. As was her training and her custom, she hummed a simple tune while going about her chores, though its melody reflected the ache within her, a melancholy tune of loss and solitude. The animals responded to her song, many nuzzling against her legs or adding their own voices in their own ways.
As she tended the goats, one in particular came to her, following her around and bleating. Elena turned to it and knelt.
“Hello Scruff.” She said, petting its back and scratching its ears. The animal nuzzled at her leg and rested it’s chin on her knee.
“I miss him.” Elena explained, “… and I miss Mum.” Tears formed in her eyes, a regular occurrence of late, and she allowed them to flow unhampered. “It’s just me here now… Just me.”
Elena drew comfort from the small creature, holding it close, yet the aching inside her seemed little diminished.
The day passed, as it will, the sun traversing the sky till finally it descended behind the mountains of the west. It left in a symphony of colors, painting the clouds in purple and gold, but Elena’s eye could not hold its beauty. Within her home she huddled by the hearth fire, night’s dark growing outside, drawing her cloak once more about her, despite the warmth emanating so near. In the night Grune howled once more, calling to the moon and bringing to her mind her own ‘moonshine’. With some sadness Elena noted that the howling was far away this night. Grune was leaving the valley.
“Goodbye friend.” She commented, “May you find comfort in your travels.”
Again the tears came; she seemed to have no end to their reservoir. Elena let her voice join in her sorrow and the cabin was filled with her mournful song. She sat for hours, pouring her grief out through her gift, and only the shroud of sleep finally stilled its notes.