The Cailleach

The Cailleach, the Celtic crone goddess of storms and winter, wears a hood in many visual interpretations. I imagine her surrounded, beneath her cloak, by cool and crisp vapor, more like that from an autumn evening than anything frightening. When I was isolating during the pandemic, I was trying to make drawings like I used to. I paused my artmaking for years, busy with supporting and caring for a family. After Susanna died, I became sad and withdrawn in grief, in addition to all the daily tasks and a consumptive day job. The only themes I could create when I tried were hooded figures reaching for birds to land on spindly fingers, standing or sitting next to sparse trees. There was much missing. My face was numb, my mouth and toes burned, I could not smell most things for a couple of years. When I had contracted COVID, we were still in the initial lockdown, street siren and makeshift morgue days, back when there were stories of dolphins swimming through the canals in Venice. I needed patience and recalibration.

    In my family history, there are documents and records I have been able to retrieve online. They date far back on my father’s side, colonialists and medievals. In the lineage of my mother, the paths back across the ocean are more recent, to Ireland and Sweden, and end in less tangible detail. Ultimately, we are all here on earth related and of the same family. More important than government or church papers, the connections I feel to Ireland are spiritual and ancient. They predate political borders. I have had dreams and visions of the Tuatha de Danann, the supernatural folk, of the Dagda and Lugh, of mother goddess Danu. One of my favorite inner places to find piece has a view across green mountain tops where I can see farms that look like a patchwork quilt. Upon a closer look, the vegetation would be ferns and yew branches, spattered with acorns and oak leaves. I return here often. Since Susanna died, I am always reluctant to leave my places of enchantment.

    I have learned that painful experiences heal by my being open to re-feeling them, as cautiously as needed. As I write Susanna’s book, I am consistently aware of how deep pain can burrow and live and shape things. Blocking out pain makes me block out joy and my life force too. The universe does not support filtering out what hurts. I allow the emotions and look for solace where I find it. Our story, Susanna’s and mine, goes back as far as humans do. We have all been through wars, plagues, and tragedies.

    This time of year, sunsets are more vivid, due to the earth’s tilt, cloud cover, and cool air masses. I am not a scientist, but I was overtaken by beauty yesterday as I walked my dog. I walked by the marina and could see bits of red and pink reflected in the shallow water. Higher in my plane of vision, the sun lowered into a bright and brassy golden ball. I stepped through brittle leaves, thinking about the different contours of maple versus oak, and how much I enjoy drawing them. I suddenly felt how sad I am that I will leave earth someday. I do not know exactly what comes after, but I felt how beautiful the planet is and how much I will miss it. Maybe, the veil becomes thin in October because the disincarnate do not want to miss the spectacle of colors.

    I also wished, thinking about this, Susanna was here with me, to see everything and live and struggle. I have had so many more years here than she had. This seems unfair, and nothing at all like what I wanted for her.

   I was reminded of teaching my students about Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” earlier in the day. I came across his diary entry about what was happening:

“I was walking along the road with two friends – the sun went down – I felt a gust of melancholy – suddenly the sky turned a bloody red. I stopped, leaned against the railing, tired to death – as the flaming skies hung like blood and sword over the blue-black fjord and the city – my friends went on – I stood there trembling with anxiety – and I felt a vast infinite scream through nature.”

What a simultaneously wonderful and horrible world this is. Art and stories, intense love, screams of pain and nature. A warm cloak is needed.

By trishfreer

Mother, writer, artist and teacher grappling with grief and loss.


  1. Love your writing. Yesterday am the marsh was something to see, covered in fog. The fall sunsets are amazing here and your words describe it so I can feel I’m right there. Your mothers love is so strong and beautiful even as you carry all that pain in your heart.

    Liked by 1 person

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