Ancestral energy lives in the stars above us, the stones beneath us. Their memory gathers in oceans, rivers and seas. It hums its silent wisdom within the body of every tree.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Honoring the Recent Dead

All Hallows
In a previous post I shared the difference for me between my Ancestral Dead and my Beloved Dead. As we near All Hallows Eve, I want to share my thoughts on the Recent Dead, where the waters of grief are shallow and stormy, and easily stirred.

It is almost October’s Blood Moon, also known as the Hallow Moon, Shedding Moon and Winterfelleth, which means winter coming, and the New England earth is giving the last of her harvests. The tomato beds have been cleared and put to rest. We have passed the Equinox and turn towards winter and the longest night.

As the earth quiets and stills and both we and the animals prepare to spend more time indoors than out, we can hear more clearly our own thoughts and emotions. My thoughts move, at this time of year, to the people I have lost in the last turning of the wheel. The celebrations of Halloween and Samhain are dedicated to the concept of the spirits of the dead walking the land. This creates a collective of thoughts directed towards this idea on October 31, whether in belief or mockery or fun. With such a large pool of energy to connect to, it is a fitting time of year to actively honor their memories.

Death as a Passage
Just as births are a joyous occasion and a rite of passage for both parent and child, death is also a rite of passage for both the deceased and their loved ones. It’s supposed to be a moment that alters and colors our lives. After a birth you spend your life learning to let go of what could happen and help your child grow into their own person. After death you are forced to understand the absence of the physical and the acceptance of the unknowable.

Do you allow death to diminish you? Or do you use it as a catalyst to make changes in how you relate to your world, and the people in it? If someone died that you never told how important they were to you, take steps to make sure that doesn't happen to again. Tell those who remain how much you care. If someone you admired passed, be a role model for those who may look up to you. If someone passed in tragedy, have gratitude for the abundance you have been given and share it with others when they are in need.

A fetus spends nine months in its cocoon, forming and birthing itself. As someone who appreciates the balance of the natural world, I believe that our spirits, once released from the larger physical cocoon, spends time to unform from the essence of who we are into… whatever comes next. Whatever you believe that to be. I honor the unknowable journey when I honor their memory.

What names sit in your list of recent dead? Who were they to you? What impact did they have on your life? What lessons did they bring that challenged you and helped you grow?

My Recent Dead
Karl Weber, a loved friend, passed last January in tragedy. He had the most exquisite crystal blue eyes and a smile that was infectious. He was always honest with me, and never knowing how else to put a thing, he said it direct. Karl told me that when he was younger he was not always a good person, but in the span of years I knew him, he was generous with his self, his heart and with his time. He is missed.

Lunabelle the Jackalope Cat, our beloved pet and family member passed March 4th. My baby, also known as Luna-No-Pants and Chicken McNugget. She was the first being I reared into the world and was my shadow and companion for almost ten years. She became suddenly sick and when we took her to the vet we discovered that she only had hours to live. She is irreplaceable.

Charles Littman was my kindergarten teacher and Ellen Fitzgerald was my fifth grade teacher, one of the first truly compassionate and open-minded adults I met. The world is a better place for the work they both did and the heart they gave. They touched the lives of hundreds of children who are now adults in the world, impacting change and creating new families.

I am a better person for having known them, for having been shaped and colored by their deeds, ideals, and service. I see the threads that connect us all more clearly every year. There are many ways to honor the memory of the recent dead. If they died from illness, you can make a charitable donation in their name or volunteer time at a hospice. If it was a role model of yours, see where you can give back, like maybe working with Habitat for Humanity, or reading stories to children at the library. The one thing death clearly defines is how important it is to be a part of the life around us. No cultural festival demonstrates that idea better than Dia De Los Muertos.

The Day of the Dead
I like how this festival joyfully celebrates the lives of those who have recently passed. I find that the funerary customs I was raised with actually attributed more to my struggles with how to grieve. For those who celebrate The Day of the Dead, there is no room for tears and grief during the three days of reverence that last October 31- November 2. They believe that an invitation to their dead for a party should be a party when they show.

Families decorate the graves of loved ones with candles to warm the hands of the spirits and their favorite foods to entice them to return for a visit. The more recent the death of the deceased, the more extravagant the altar built in their name will be. Families’ picnic and feast together in the cemeteries, decked with the scents of copal and marigold, and littered with Calaveras (sugar skulls). It should be noted that The Day of the Dead does not historically connect to Halloween. It traces back to a month long celebration of the Aztec people, which took place in the calendar month of August. When the Spaniards stumbled upon it, they moved it they moved the festival to correlate with their festival of All Souls.

Spend a moment and share the name of someone who impacted your life, in whatever way, who passed this last year. Offer a toast to their memory the next time you share a drink. Tell a story of something you learned from them, or share a memory that makes you laugh.

Every life touches another.
Every death vibrates in someone’s breast.
May those we have lost be at peace.
May those who have lost find peace again.


  1. As I have gotten older, I go to a funeral with a smile because I remember all the great things about the person who has left their body. I wish them luck & that they are greeting others who have gone before them. With so many happy memories of a person, what reason is there to be sad? Besides, they are still a part of me & I will see them again :)

  2. That is such a healthy attitude to have, and one I have cultivated with acquaintances and distant friends. One I am still struggling to cultivate with close friends and family. In cases of sickness, I find it easy to be happy for their physical struggles to be over, but tragedies take me longer to work through. Cultivating this ancestor work was an important tool towards being more at peace with the death, while allowing myself to grieve the loss.

    "Besides, they are still a part of me & I will see them again :) " I love that.

  3. I agree with you wholeheartedly, Elizabeth. I was just having a conversation with someone along these lines, and I said that I am prepared for the loss of close family members, and when that time comes it won't be overburdened with sadness.

    Sarah, more beautiful lines in this entry. I may be asking your permission to quote some of these soon.


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