Here we are, halfway between the Autumn equinox and the Winter solstice, feeling the days get shorter and the nights stretch longer. Legend has it that the veil between the earthly plane and the spiritual world is thinnest at this time, making it easier for spirits to cross over and walk among the living, and vice versa–souls ready to move on easily make their exit. So it follows, that it is easier to commune with spirits around this time, especially those of deceased loved ones.
Twenty years ago, November 2, 2002, my Mom passed peacefully through that thin veil, in her sleep. She wasn’t even sick, just went to bed that night, fully expecting to wake up the next day. It was a wonderful, blessed way to die, but a terrible shock to our family. I have always fancied the idea that her loved ones slipped through the veil and took her into the Afterlife. (Not a hill I’d die on, but a comforting thought, nonetheless.)
The Mexican celebration of Día de los Muertos, observed November 1-2, honors the souls of those who have passed, and on those days their ancestors are believed to visit their earthly families. Celebrants decorate elaborate home altars with flowers, candles and their loved ones’ favorite foods
Festivities often extend into cemeteries, where families visit gravesites of beloved family members, often delivering picnics and playing festive music. I envy this tradition, especially the way it is portrayed in the movie “Coco”; you should watch it.
In their usual way, the Catholic Church appropriated the pagan holidays of Samhain, when the veil thins, and established All Saints Day on November 1 and All Souls Day on November 2. Despite some really good hymns and naming the folks who died the past year, they fall short of actually acknowledging the Spirit World and the community of ancestors who already inhabit the life beyond this life.
I decided last Memorial Day to start doing my grave-decorating on the Days of the Dead. Remember when we called Memorial Day “Decoration Day”? It has morphed into a Veterans’ Day of sorts and I think the Mexican Way of remembering your deceased ancestors is more appropriate for my purpose, which is to celebrate the continuum of life.
I’ve learned so much from studying and charting my genealogy, not just facts, but a perspective that life is more than just the dash between our birth and death dates; we are on a spectrum that includes what was passed on to us by our elders, what we’ve learned from the times in which we are born, and what we, in turn, pass on to our descendants.
In what I hope becomes a tradition, off I go this Tuesday to take a picnic over to Southern Illinois and hit up some old cemeteries. I still need to find the tomb of my 2x great-grandmother, Analiza McWilliams Kinkade, and her parents; I was soo close the last time I looked and I think I’ll locate it this time. My 2x great-grandfather, Alexander Kinkade, is buried in a whole ‘nother cemetery, and I’d like to visit him, too. Last time I was at the Lick Prairie Cemetery, where 3x great-grandfather Benjamin Franklin Mayne is buried, I didn’t realize how many (a lot) of my other family are buried there, so there are new acquaintances to make. I haven’t visited Grandma and Grandpa Eaton’s grave for a couple of years, so that will be a nice reunion; great-grandparents Goodson are nearby, as well as a slew of aunts and uncles. A world without ancestors would be so lonely.
Of course, I always think of Mom on her death day, but I think of her Every Day. She and Dad are buried nearby and I visit their mausoleum every season – Fall, Christmas, Winter, Spring, and Fourth of July- to keep it spruced up. I think she’d like the idea of visiting the cemeteries on All Souls Day; wish she were here to go along.
The weather is supposed to be nice and the trees are particularly pretty right now. I’m going to visit with some living cousins, too, so I won’t be talking to Just Ghosts.
Where would we be without our Ancestors? Celebrate!