The fall wind blows through the trees no matter where I am to remind me that today is Halloween, today is a day to remember the dead. The beloved dead, our ancestors and friends who have walked before us into the unknown.
For Catholics, soon will come the celebration for the faithful departed. Many will make their way out to the graveyards to clean off the graves of their love ones and spend some time with them. Other traditions have a Dum Supper, a meal eaten in silence to honor the dead.
For the last two years, I have been attending an event called the “Ancestors’ Feast” at the local Unitarian Church. A group of friends and myself have sung old and ancient songs and joined in the celebration. Of all the masses, rituals and celebrations, I have attended over the years this one has meant more to me than any other. It is a collaborative event, where everyone contributes and feels welcome. A rare event for many of us. It has been the highlight for me of this fall season; a time to remember the real reason for the season. A time to remember my own ancestors.
Each year in my own home, I light a candle to remember my ancestors and friends who have crossed veil and into the next world. This year, I will be lighting two more candles. One for my Grandmother, who passed last Thanksgiving, and another for my friend, Shannon who passed later in the year. As a part of my yearly ritual, I raise my glass to them and thank them for all they did and for brightening my life with their existence.
My grandmother went by the nickname, Honey, for most of her life, because of her honey blonde hair. She and my grandfather fell in love in elementary school. She used to walk down the mountain and my grandfather would wait to walk to her school. They were in love for nearly eight decades. He loved her until the very end.
Poets can only try to and do justice to their love. I believe they would all fail,because their love was an imperfect and real love. A love that produced four children and saw two grow into adults. One of whom is my father.
This was one of my grandmother’s swans. I think her name was Judith after my aunt who passed away. My grandmother loved nature and taught me to love it as well. We never really understood each other. She was always formal and rarely emotional. I was her opposite and while I learned from her, I didn’t understand her.
We connect in the last months of her life. My father drove me up to see her and we spent the morning talking in the solarium. My grandfather built it to house her plants in the winter. She was suffering from dementia and was rarely coherent. I was used to this side of her. For years, she was slipped in and out of this world. I knew it and some of the rest of the family, but no one wanted to admit it.
That summer day, we talked for hours while my grandfather and father went down the mountain to run errands. She told me the same story over and over. In the sixties, my grandfather and her built a house in small pocket of a mountain. The house was built in part on the land and part on water. It was amazing house. She loved the house being surrounded by a mountain. She could never explain her love for that house to others or why she built in the shadow of her former home.
I don’t know if I really understood it either, but she didn’t try and make me over into her version of me, like before, this time she just talked to me and I snuck her licorice sticks. We giggled. I always loved her, I loved her strength and her ability to transcend her beginnings. On that day, however, I met the women that my grandfather fell in love with seven decades before.
So this year, I will raise my glass to her and to my friend, Shannon, two women who did not let their circumstances define them, but instead defined what it is to be a woman. A woman does not give up, she fights for what she loves with everything that she has. She doesn’t give up and surrender to anything include the diseases which took both of their minds away.
So I raise my glass and thank them for being themselves and for all the lessons they taught me and all the lessons their memories will teach me in the years to come.