As one who loves to celebrate, I’ve always been an adopter of miscellaneous holidays, taking parts and pieces of other traditions and making them into something meaningful for my own life. My version of Dia De Los Muertos usually consists of visiting a grave, maybe lighting a candle and having a snack while telling stories about the deceased, usually with more laughter than tears.
Since we began the practice, we focused mainly on our Good Dog Lug, my Grandpa Walt and my firstborn son Hans. Walt and Hans had died a number of years before we started the practice ~ my kids don’t remember either of them, but I appreciated the way it kept their stories alive. They both grew up with Good Dog Lug and lived with her until her last day, but while they knew, loved and remembered her, still, the wounds weren’t fresh.
In years past, I have spent time with my children eating crab cheese wontons on my Grandfather’s grave and remembering that he would have told us our lunch smelled like sewage. We have lit candles, and placed pretty rocks and even bones on the grave of our Good Dog Lug while we laughed and told stories of her mischief. I have sat alone and held the blanket that belonged to my first born baby Hans.
All of those deaths were a long time ago. No, time does not erase the pain, but time and space are a sort of salve on a wounded heart, and make it easier to smile at the fun times rather than just cry over the loss.
This year is different. In the last 12 months our family has had so many deaths.
By far, the most painful of all was the loss of my Grandma Peggy~ she was the matriarch of my family and in my mind, she was a saint with extraordinary patience and strength. She always had a way of letting me know that I was the apple of her eye.
I'm normally a woman of many words, but there are none that can adequately express her influence in my life and how fortunate I was to have her as my Grandmother.
She didn’t baby me though. I remember her scrubbing my skinned knees with iodine, and letting me know I had been doing something I shouldn’t have which was why I got injured in the first place. She didn’t yell at me or make me feel bad~ she just told it like it was.
As a teenager, when I dyed my hair rainbow colors, she must have thought I was crazy, but she never once said anything negative to me about it. In fact, I can’t remember her saying anything to me about it at all, or even acting like anything was different. She just loved me like she always had.
When I had children of my own, I know that some of my parenting ideas were a bit of a stretch from what she grew up with. She did raise her eyebrows slightly at my ideas on occasion, but was always supportive, no matter what.
My Grandma was married for 53 years before she became a widow, and they still thought of each fondly until the end. Up to her own last days, thirteen years after the death of my Grandpa, she always spoke of him with love and respect. To me, that shows a kind of loyalty and level of commitment that most people today can’t even imagine knowing.
From her I inherited a love of adventure and travel, and telling stories. In her eighties, she jumped on an opportunity to go for a ride in a speedboat on the lake, shushing me and my concerns, and smiling the whole time. If there was fun to be had, she had it, and if there was a story to be told, she told it.
Unfortunately, I did not get her sense of diplomacy and way of holding harsh words. That woman had an amazing ability to make things happen her way without needing to be loud. I did learn to make things happen, but not so much how to do it quietly.
The last few weeks of my Grandmother’s life were brutally difficult, with tremendous suffering for her and those who loved her, but she continued to show her strength, fighting hard until the end.
None of us knew how old this cat was, but she had been a part of our pack of furry animals for years, giving us many smiles and much entertainment along the way, and by the end, she was clearly ancient~ her walk had become a hobble and her hearing had gone.
She had been a wildish thing when she moved herself in under our back porch, but when she choose us as her family, she must have trusted us enough to become tame.
The day she died, I was supposed to be on a camping trip, but the reservations had filled up, so we stayed home. It was raining lightly, which is not normal summer weather in my part of the country, and I was outside doing some random errand that comes with life on a little farm when I found her curled up sleeping, and breathing slowly.
She didn’t move when I said her name, but she was deaf, so that was not unexpected. But when I touched her, I knew something was wrong. Her body was stiff, almost like she was already dead, but she was breathing and her eyes opened to look at me.
I knew something was wrong and scooped her up immediately taking her in and wrapping her in a blanket. I checked her thoroughly for injuries, and there were none. As she looked into my eyes, somehow I knew that she was just done with her life and moving on. I knew the long car trip to the vet would be traumatic and pointless and that what was happening was going to happen either way.
I chose the peaceful way. I cried for a while with her, and made her a nest on my work table so she could be with me for whatever time she had left.
I was with her when she took her last breath, and somehow in her death, I found healing because I saw that the end of life can be as sacred as the start. Her death was as peaceful as a birth.
Then we lost two baby chicks in one day, which was was the last straw so to speak.
So today I will take my children to eat lunch on my Grandparent’s graves, and we'll most likely talk about life and death. And tonight I will light a bonfire, burning remnants of the past and symbols of deaths~ both physical and metaphorical, feeling thankful for what was, and looking forward to what’s next.