Nora Cedarwind Young
1958 - 2019
“The gift you give is the gift you get”
I don’t know where this quote originated but, I attribute my first hearing of it to my friend, mentor, and member of my sister tribe, Nora Cedarwind Young. I first met Nora in 2000, when I was asked to photograph her wedding. It was a Beltane affair – in Wisconsin at the beginning of May.
Wisconsin is barely if even past its last snow at that time of year. But it was Nora’s wish to wear a crown of lilacs for this ceremony – lilacs that don’t generally bloom until early June in Wisconsin. The sun glowed golden that weekend though, and the air warmed and yes, the lilacs bloomed – for her – which they had done neither before nor since – and she wore her glorious, fragrant crown of beauty.
Sometimes Death comes as a surprise. Many of us thought Nora might live forever. She dodged death so soundly in 2013, refusing to comply with a medical proclamation of her 10-day-due-to-expire-date. We didn’t figure he’d be back around for more but, here it is, 6 years later. He snuck up on her, full frontal, and in the middle of her best laid plans for the summer he spirited her across the veil. If I know Nora at all, I suspect he has serious regrets.
For me, there’s not much to discover about Nora after her death. She lived life out loud.
She was a member of my spiritual community, (and of several others) crafting, and participating in countless workshops, presentations, and rituals. Her love of all the things that celebrated women; the sisterhood, the Coming of Age Rites for young women, Motherhood, the Queens and Crones – she joyfully embraced that whole life cycle. "From Womb to Tomb" she would say, and her enthusiasm for those celebrations was infectious.
One of the foremothers of the death positive movement, among the first to provide training for Death Midwives, and one of the Founders of the National Home Funeral Alliance, Nora opened hearts and awakened minds to the idea of reclaiming death. She believed that our death denying society was at the root of much of our suffering, and that, that suffering was a side effect of being discouraged, and in some cases completely prevented from participating in our own Final Rite of Passage, and those of our Beloveds. Rites of passage were important to Nora.
She was a Priestess, and a Minister, her compassion for the vulnerability of families trying to navigate expensive funeral processes while in the height of their grief, was extraordinary. Deeply connected to the Earth, and to the water, she was an advocate for Green Burial, which offered protection for both. She spent years ferreting out alternative ways for families to reclaim family directed end of life choice from the medical profession, and the funeral industry. She recognized the gap between these two institutions and constructed a path to fill it. She passed that knowledge along in classrooms and venues all over the country.
Nora met death the same way she lived her life, with dignity, grace, and humor. More often than platitudes, or empty comfort, to those seeking her counsel, she was likely to adopt a sardonic tone posing the question – (with a twinkle in her eye) – “How’s that workin’ out for ya?” And many a chagrined seeker of her wisdom turned their life around because of it.
Most people’s Ancestors whisper through their blood and their dreams. Nora roars. She leaves behind her much Beloved husband, Bud, who was her hero. The strong and solid, loving presence who quietly held her through her darkest days. She leaves behind four beautiful children: Alta Love, twins Jake Harvey and Jessica Dodge, and Hanna Odekirk. She was blessed with seven grandchildren. And she leaves behind countless friends, students and grateful families all over the world.
The gift she gave was one of hope and inspiration – of solutions and friendship. The gift she gets is a legacy of love that will ensure her work continues, as the lineage of the Death Midwives she’s trained, and the growth of more eco-friendly methods of body disposition evolves and grows to heal and benefit our society and our world. Only love transcends the veil.
Go gently, Nora, my Lilac Queen. We commit you into the arms of the Mother Goddess whom you love so well. We will remember you, in the fragrant scent of blossoms on the early summer breeze, in the sound of the waves lapping the shore, in each stone upon the beach, each shining silver splash in the water, and around the campfires that we share with Beloveds and kinfolk.
Hail the Traveler! She has gone shining.
Now you are everywhere, now you are everything.
What is remembered, lives.
~Angie Buchanan 2019