Tuesday, November 09, 2010

More Than Just One Day

It's 10 Things Tuesday today and I have a really fun list but it's going to have to wait until next week because today is November 9th as well.

Back on November 2nd I read here and there about it being The Day of the Dead. I thought for sure that was on November 1st but I was wrong. OK, it turns out I was partially right and partially wrong. All Saints Day is on the 1st and All Souls Day on the 2nd, thanks to the Spanish who wanted to align this Aztec ritual more closely with the Christian calendar. Thanks again, Christian extremists, for sticking your nose in where it doesn't belong.

But back to what All Souls Day is about. It's a day set aside for honoring one's dead. It takes a lot of forms and there is some incredibly beautiful imagery associated with it. In fact one of my favorite Mermaid Parade costume sets were four beautiful young ladies done up in Day of the Dead makeup. As I was reading this and being reminded again I thought, "No, not quite, it's too early."

Ten years ago today I was working as a temp for a chi-chi lifestyle magazine and one day, after repeated misfires in family communication, my uncle called me up to tell me that my paternal grandfather had collapsed and was being taken to the hospital by ambulance. Very shortly thereafter he called to let me know that Robbie had died. The chain of events on that end seem, after a little more research, to have been slightly different but the result was surely the same.

And thus kicked off six months to remember, a season of death.

On December 8th I received a call that my maternal grandmother was being hospitalized and that we should all make our way North to her immediately. The following morning I packed a foolishly haphazard group of belongings in a backpack, put it and my dog in a borrowed car and drove seven hours into progressively snowier territory. I ate a lobster roll while talking with my grandmother in her hospital bed and tried to parse the true nature of the emergency. Before I managed that, sometimes I'm far too slow, I was bundled into a car and slept on my grandmother's couch. When the phone rang at 7 the next morning it was to tell us she was unconscious and we should come back immediately. A few hours later, December 10th, she was gone.

Christmas was a freakish, cold blur. There was a broken down car at some point.

Right before Easter Carmencita's beloved dog, Frankie, died.

Twice I scooted home to New England on an emergency call to visit my paternal step grandmother. Somehow, despite her descent into Alzheimer's, it felt urgent to try and get to her before she died. I no longer bothered to assess the level of emergency. I labeled them all code red and responded accordingly. After the second call, while I was somewhere in Connecticut no doubt, the day after Mother's Day, Biddy died. May 8, 2001.

I went to a lot of funerals, obviously. I learned a lot about packing appropriately for the occasion. I bought emergency pairs of sober-colored trousers and shoes. I laughed at gravesides, a sign of respect in my circles.

There was a bright spot in June. Alita was born. I spent a lot of time walking my dog over to Carmencita's house and holding the baby.

On September 7, 2001, accompanied by a dear friend, I attended Grammy Fern's internment. It was a sunny, beautiful day in Maine and a surreal event. I sang, people sang with me when they weren't supposed to, my cousin (also dead now) talked about hemerrhoids and made fun of my mother in a way I felt wasn't appropriate. My dog, a trooper of the highest degree, waited in my grandparents' empty home while we celebrated. Finally, as evening threatened, we changed clothes, retrieved the pup, rolled all the windows down on that little Civic and let the wind blow the ash off our shoulders.

We laughed and gossiped and thanked our lucky stars that it was over. It had to be over, you see, because this sort of long, drawn out pattern, while not as bad as many stories I've heard, still couldn't be sustained. This was a new, grandparentless era and, while it was territory fresh like an open cut, it was a beginning. We uncharacteristically cherished the idea of going to work the next morning. I only had two days left on my magazine assignment and was looking forward to a change of scenery, though I was eternally grateful for the way they'd accommodated me while I came and went from family emergency to family emergency to yet another family emergency. I felt sure, something I rarely feel, that this time, this feeling, this era was over. Even someone as averse as I to change appreciated that.

Two days later it was a new beginning. That time, that feeling, that era was most definitely over. It was the Day of the Dead indeed.


  1. This was beautiful.
    One of my friends posted on fb about their All Souls Vespers Service at their church, which allowed them to come to terms and peace with those they'd lost this year...I thought how lovely a place and a thing to be a part of.

  2. I had such a vivid dream about my mother last night. Sometimes we find out about our Days in unexpected ways. (We were in Oaxaca a couple of years ago for the Day of the Dead - I know there's not a lot of space left on your life list, but...)

  3. lovely tribute and post, thanks for the reminder to process it. was talking about my dead uncles at the breakfast table today for some reason (hm!), and found myself hedging on answering the "how did they die" question from my boys, as one was voluntary and the other a miserable end to alcoholism. talking is good, reasons can come in a bit I think.

  4. Misti, the Halloween thing at the Cathedral follows a format that brings you from Halloween to All Souls Day. There's a lot of Day of the Dead imagery in the costumes he chooses to show. It always makes me feel good and peaceful.

    Sara, there's plenty of room on my list for something like that!

    bethany, both of your uncles were very sick and they died. What they were sick with doesn't matter for now. I do think it's good to talk about. I was with a friend whose dog died in August when we met up with a young neighbor and her mom. All of a sudden we're wading right into that conversation because this was the first the neighbors had heard of Teddy's death. It's delicate but I feel like it's always worse to brush it off and pretend it's nothing. Kids aren't stupid. They know it's not nothing.

  5. 2005. It's the year that I think of when reading this post. J's death, Chris' surgeries, My brother and sister-in-laws' motorcycle wreck, Hurricane Katrina. All crashed together in a matter of months. On All Souls Day, I like to remember the death of that year.

  6. Bizarre. Driving to drop the kid off this morning, listening to a brand new song on a brand new cd that really shouldn't have evoked those emotions, I fought back what could have been a violent sobbing act of missing my grandfather. Perhaps he was sharing a mimosa with yours?