by Dr. Todd Berntson
The past 24 hours have been almost surreal. I was sitting at the dinner table with some friends at an Indian restaurant when I received a call from my father that my cousin Brad was dead. Brad was four years older than me and had been my superhero while I was growing up.
As a kid I used to tell my friends incredible tales about the amazing feats that my cousin could do, as though he was some mythical figure with superhuman powers. Truth be told, in a lot of ways he kind of lived up to that. He was very good looking, smart, funny, incredibly strong, and was one of those guys that everybody liked. So, when I was told that Brad was dead, I was in shock. Unfortunately, that was only the beginning of the bad news.
A short time later, I received another call informing me that my father and I would not be allowed to attend Brad’s funeral because I was Wiccan and Brad’s wife didn’t want me to “pollute their church” with my evil presence. I was dumbfounded by this. Even as I write this, I still have a hard time believing that this really happened. Does being Catholic mean that you cannot be accepting of other spiritual paths? What makes Wicca, which is one of the most gentle and forgiving spiritual paths, so “evil”? Would Jesus have barred me from saying goodbye to a deceased family member because I wasn’t Catholic?
Unfortunately, this is not the first time that this kind of thing had happened. Only four months prior, Brad’s father, Bruce, was found dead in a hotel room. When I attended his funeral at the church, most of the family would not even look at me or say hello. During the luncheon that followed the funeral service, I stood up to say a few kind words about my recently deceased uncle. As I looked out at the faces in the crowd, I could see several people looking at me as though I was some kind of leper. There was an almost palpable look of disgust on many of their faces. As we left, both my father and I commented on how unwelcome we felt.
This whole situation is very disturbing on so many levels. How can any spiritual tradition, be it Christian, Hindu, Shinto, Pagan, or Jewish, justify denying someone the fundamental human need to say goodbye to a deceased family member? How can the Wiccan spiritual path, which is founded on the reverence for all living things and celebrating the diversity of life, be considered so disturbing, so evil, that followers of the Catholic faith can feel justified in shunning members of their own family?
Although I am not a Christian, I often reflect a famous prayer attributed to St. Francis where he speaks: “Lord, grant that I may seek rather to comfort than to be comforted; to understand, than to be understood; to love, than to be loved.” Perhaps if those who so vocally profess their piety would simply follow their own prayers, the world would be a place with much more comfort, understanding, and love. And I would have had the opportunity to say goodbye to my superhero.
Goodbye Brad, I love you.
Todd Berntson is a doctor of chiropractic and a doctoral candidate in clinical psychology. He
has been actively involved in the Neopagan community both locally and nationally, and is the
Vice President of Summerland Spirit Festival, which is a spiritual retreat for followers of Earth-
centered spiritual traditions.