let the earth hold you

my brother transitioned into the Ancestor Realm on January 2nd, 2021. unexpected, yes. surprising, yes and No. he had been struggling with alcoholism for the majority of his life. which left his blood familia (and maybe others?) wondering (and hoping) he would one day find the healing he deserved. the healing that many of us find through spiritual journeys, falling and finding the way out of our depression, addictions, grief. he once asked me how I “did it”— how I did what? — “how do you live, how do you feel everything ‘on your own’?” — I quickly figured out what he meant is how I lived my life without a substance like alcohol to help me through the roughness of life. At that moment I remembered being enveloped with compassion for him, for all of us who struggle with anxiety, depression, a desire to escape the reality that is Life.

Growing up I lived with fear for my brother. I think all his siblings did. My parents too. They did what they could to help. Sometimes the help they offered was the opposite of what I would have preferred but who am I to judge a parent in desperate desire to save their child from death itself? I know I was a good sister to him and yet I wonder if I could have done more for him? Could I have saved him from Captain Morgan swallowing him alive? I know at 13 years old I set out with this task. I spent the majority of my teen years and 20s believing that if only I did x, y, z that he would be saved. I failed every time but I did learn a lot about him. I learned about his hurts and his pains. I tried to carry them with him offering my support in ways that sometimes led to my enabling his drinking. I thought maybe if I drive him around he would be safer…I would help him avoid a DUI or a terrible accident. Other times I believed that my hanging out with him and his kids would be the answer to his pain. I remember a deep sadness gnawed at my heart at the feeling of losing him.

There was one particular time when I was in my teens, maybe 15ish I attacked him physically out of rage-full fear. I was so afraid for him, afraid that one day I would get the news that he was in the hospital or dead. He laughed at me when I jumped on him to try to beat him up. I probably ended up crying and laughing myself because that was such a ridiculous attempt to stop him from hurting himself…and he was so much stronger than I was, I had no chance! But I did try…that is what I keep telling myself in these sleepless nights I can’t avoid since his departure. But did I try enough? And the sleep runs away while the tears fill my face with warm saltiness.

The weekend I joined my siblings to clear out his apartment, only a few days after his death, I kept hearing him sing me this song, an oldie, “If this world were mine I’d give you the flowers….” and so on…I wanted so badly for his death to be a nightmare I can wake up from. We all had already lost him for more than 10 years when he was locked up. His death only enraged me more against the Prison Industrial Complex (PIC). If I was an Abolitionist before his death, after he died I graduated as a die hard Abolitionist who truly believes that cages do nothing more than create more harm for our world.

Jerry is the driving force behind my transformative and healing justice work outside L.A. county jails. He is the reason why I ever even thought about organizing with other families who had loved ones inside the prison system. I was hungry for community that would understand the loss, the pain, the injustice it is to have little to no real help for our loved ones who struggle with addictions, mental health dis-eases, spiritual sicknesses that are produced by this capitalist, over industrialized, disconnected world we live in. I found the healing portals we created with art, music, flowers and plants, conversation, compassion, and heart to heart connections was the perfect interruption to the violence the PIC creates in our communities. After our healing portals I would leave feeling a combination of hope and community that would last me until the next time we showed up at another jail site. I loved how powerful our healers team was; they showed up ready to give through massage, herbal medicine, story sharing, energy medicine, tarot reading, and so much more. The sheriff’s had no clue why we did what we did and for the most part we were protected and hardly bothered by them. I often felt that we had an energetic shield that no negative energy could break through. Those were beautiful days and memories I carry close to my heart whenever I think of Jerry. I am so grateful for the work that saved me from the deep depression that feels so close when one has a loved one in a cage.

The 10 years Jerry was “inside” I spent trying to heal myself reclaiming earth and plant medicine. At some point during those 10 years Jerry gave me the nickname of his flower power sister. I thought it was so funny he called me that but I secretly liked it because it honored my relationship to the flowers that I have been cultivating for a long time now. During the last 6 months or so of Jerry’s term he was trained and worked at one of the prison fire camps. When he got out he told me about sleeping on the earth, under the stars, sometimes having worked 20 hour days fighting the 2019 California fire season. He shared how his captain was a good guy and the yummy food he got to eat with the crew. It brings me tears of gratitude that my brother had the experience of being held by the earth herself before he transitioned. I am so happy he got to see the stars, breathe real air, and experience some sort of relief knowing he was not sleeping in a cage.

One of the tools I have now is knowing that the earth holds me too. That I am not alone in my grief and that the plants can help me through this hard time of acceptance and release. I could not save my brother because my brother was very sick. And now all I can do is heal from the time lost, mourn his physical absence, and let the earth hold me. I don’t know when there will be a turn, a shift in my mourning process…some days are better than others. I am grateful for my siblings who are my rock and my source of light when things get hard. I am also eternally grateful for the friends Jerry had that truly cared for him and his well being. There are more of them than I ever imagined. I am glad to meet them now, be able to thank them in person, and let them know that Jerry is rooting for them, rooting for all of us now as an Ancestor. I know it is not the same, but it what we have so I want to make the best out of it. I know Jerry would prefer we celebrate him with oldies, good stories, and laughter. I know he is part of the earth that holds me now, too. I lean into this earth more now in hopes I can feel him close. I want him to know it is okay to rest and that we are okay here. He worried about everyone too, in his own ways but he did. I want to sing him the song too, let him know that his sister loves him. “If this world were mine, I’d give you each day so sunny and blue. If you wanted the moonlight, I’d give you that too. If this world were mine, I’d give you anything.”

Accessible Earth Medicine to hold and move our bodies through Grief:

~ Laying on the ground or at the base of a tree. Connecting to your own breath and that of the ground or roots beneath you. Allowing oneself to feel oneself as a part of the earth ecosystem vs separate from it. Offering tears, prayers, spells, affirmations, or other words to the ground or root as a form of release of the emotions our bodies are carrying.

Taíno land, Borikén. January 2021.

~ Sitting on top of a hill or mountain and intentionally taking in the “bigger” view. This past year I have been practicing breathing in & taking in large open landscapes and skies. Inviting the different colors and the feeling of expansiveness into my body so that I can embody this openness, trust, and expansion in my own life as well.

Espejos Cempazuchitl, Borikén. Early 2021. Photo Credit: Millo and Bruje Fuego.

~ Eat, drink, wear the pretty flowers around you. When working with grief it is important to lean into our inner balance so as not to become attached to or stagnant in our emotions. Flowers balance our emotions with their colors, scents, textures, and Spirit medicine. One particular flower I call on when needing to bring in joy is Bougainvillea. Although the bougainvillea flower is really not a flower, its bright colors cause our spirit to find moments of relief and peace.

Bougainvillea bush near L.A. River path, Tonga land. February 2021.

~ Music. Music and sounds can be life saving when mourning. Here is a playlist my youngest brother made thinking about Jerry and also his own love of oldies:

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