As I’ve been exploring spiritual practice, ancestor worship is something that has come up. It is a common act to reclaim, particularly for witches who are Black, Native, Asian, or descendants of more recent European immigrants. For those whose ancestors survived oppression, this is a powerful psychological connection to strength in the face of adversity. It gives a sense of continuity and guidance.
Personally, when I take an honest look at my family tree, I don’t see a lot of role models. I already wrote about my father’s family. While I can admire some of their intentions, mostly what I learned from them was what not to do. It doesn’t get better on my mother’s side. In fact, it gets a whole lot worse.
My father was open about the ups and downs of his upbringing. My mother was more private. I delayed posting this for a long time, in no small part because I felt like most of what I know was revealed in confidence.
What I feel most comfortable blogging about is my Uncle Wic, because what happened to him was never a secret, and because of how personal his story became to me. His full name was William Irwin Carter Jr, and I took my middle name from him. I always thought he and I would have been close. He gave my mother a beautiful book of Hans Christian Anderson stories, which made me feel connected to him because I loved fairy tales of all kinds. He also wrote beautiful poetry. At his heart, he was a gentle, creative soul.
My grandfather, William Carter Sr, did not like gentle, creative young men. Homophobia was probably involved; I don’t know if Wic was gay, but I’m sure my grandfather feared that he was. He verbally abused Wic and forced him to join the army to “man up.” While enlisted, Wic committed suicide.
This year, I came very close to killing myself. I have been there before, and the thing that always stopped me was Wic. I didn’t want my sister to feel the way my mother felt about Wic. I didn’t want there to be nieces and nephews who felt a little strange and lonely, and heard stories that made them think that, if I was still around, I could make them feel less alone. When I didn’t want to live for myself, I could manage to live for the people who I didn’t want to miss me.
When suicidal thoughts hit again, it was hard to make those old defenses work again. I had lost my sense of connection to the universe. There were still people who would miss me if I was gone, but there was also this lie filling up my head. A belief that my existence was measured in accomplishments and usefulness. As my work situation got worse, I felt like such a burden on my partner that, no matter how much he would miss me, I still thought I was better off being gone.
While I was experimenting with spiritual practices, Wic came to me during a Reiki session. I do not care whether that was a literal spiritual presence or me talking to myself through a very creative dream. It is not important. What is important is how clearly I felt the parts of him that were gone, and the parts of him that lived on through me. I felt him telling me that, in some unfathomable way, I was his second chance.
(Do I believe in reincarnation? No, but I also don’t not believe in reincarnation. I guess I believe that reincarnation might be complete nonsense, but if it isn’t I am almost positive that I am a little bit Wic.)
Both of my grandfathers failed their children, and created parents who rejected me and some of my siblings. The most stereotypical prompt in all of psychotherapy is “tell me about your childhood.” This is not the modern culture of victimhood talking. It is a doctor taking a look at the most common source of chronic pain. Yet recognizing the problem is not the same as finding the answer.
I keep coming back to the idea of spirituality as connection. All parents make mistakes, but not all parents make the kinds of mistakes that sever ties. When they do, the disconnect creates a spiritual wound that can only be healed by forming new connections. Those connections become difficult to build, because we can blame ourselves for being cut off. We can become so desperate for an explanation that we come to believe we were worthy of being disconnected. Those beliefs can, in turn, stop us from believing in the new connections that could potentially heal us.
It’s necessary to face and reject those beliefs. Otherwise, we don’t just hurt ourselves. We hurt the others out there who were rejected, and need us to connect back to them.
Talking to Wic did not fix my depression, but it turned the tide. It made me switch from defense to offense. I’ve always framed my mental health issues as something I have to weather, but now I am thinking of them as something I can potentially recover from. Something that, in fact, I have an ancestral responsibility to recover from.
Of course, when you go from being an atheist to having serious anxiety and depression to having spiritual experiences, you can’t help but wonder, “am I just going crazier?” I figured the best person to help me answer this question was a therapist.
Next I’ll be writing about my experiences blending conventional medicine with a fledgling spiritual practice. Until then, I hope you enjoyed this, and thank you for reading!