I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Day of the Dead

I saw a couple of women outside the Farmers' Market who had set up this table display for the Day of the Dead, November 1. They looked like mother and daughter to me, and the mother spoke no English and her daughter translated as I asked about the display. They are selling the sugar skulls for $5 each, to be set in your window to remember your loved ones. Mother told me that November 1 is to remember your lost children, and November 2 is to remember your lost adults. They had handouts telling more about the Mexican holiday of Dia de los Muertos.

What I discovered in searching for the origins of the holiday is that in the Catholic Church, November 1 is All Saint's Day, and November 2 is All Soul's Day. Makes sense to me, and Wikipedia tells me the following:
Traditions connected with the holiday include building private altars honoring the deceased using sugar skullsmarigolds, and the favorite foods and beverages of the departed and visiting graves with these as gifts. Due to occurring shortly after Halloween, the Day of the Dead is sometimes thought to be a similar holiday, although the two actually have little in common. The Day of the Dead is a time of celebration, where partying and eating is common.
So here it is Halloween and I'm thinking about my lost children. It's been such a long time ago that Stephen died, back in 1965, and he was only 13 months old. It was a life-changing event, because at the age of 22, I had no idea how to process the loss and became a lost soul myself. Chris was four years old at the time, and he basically lost his mother as well as his brother. It's a time that I rarely look back on. But for the Day of the Dead, I want to remember them. My strongest positive memory of that time is a day when Stephen and I played peekaboo on the bed, with him laughing in that strong baby way, his whole body convulsed with laughter, which of course made me laugh, too. We kept this up for hours, and it remains a strong visual and auditory memory.

I suppose it's normal that with the passage of time your memories begin to fade. I realized when thinking of writing this post that this has already begun to happen with Chris, too. He died in August 2002, now more than eight years ago, and the awful memories of those days of his sudden death have  begun to fade, too. I wrote about it here, and I don't want to think of those days right now, but instead the person he was to me.

Chris had a lot of characteristics of his father, whom I had divorced not long after the death of Stephen. Many people know that the death of a child can be a catalyst to force the parents either closer to each other or apart. We didn't have a great marriage, much of which I attribute to our youth and inexperience. I think we would have made it if Stephen hadn't died. Those characteristic mannerisms of his father and ways of looking at the world that Chris displayed are now precious memories. Funny how something that annoyed me has now become something to make me smile with fond recollection.

Chris was really smart. He liked to make up new words that were similar to familiar sounding words and would amaze me with them. I can't today think of any particular ones, but I attribute that to my fading ability to recall them. One day when he was a kid of ten or twelve, I got a call from the school that he had arrived without his shoes. This was in Michigan in February! (After Chris would walk to school, I left for work.) He had ditched his shoes because he read that Indians didn't need them, and he wanted to see what it was like!

He had a great sense of humor, and I can still remember his infectious laugh, which makes me smile just to think of it. He was also a ladies' man, always coming to visit me as an adult with a different woman, and almost all of them had a small child. Chris always adopted these kids in his heart, and I think it was the loss of the relationship with the kids that hurt him the most when they broke up. He never married until he was in the Army, in Germany, and he married a German woman who had a young boy from a previous marriage. They were all very close when he died. Chris never fathered a child himself, and I've always wondered why.

My two sons are still alive in my heart, and Chris comes to visit me frequently in my dreams. I find that being around infants and especially babies around the age that Stephen was when he died fill a need that I still have. I am constantly amazed that the old adage about time healing all wounds is so often shown to me. There is no pain involved in the memories of either of my sons. I am sure that if I allowed myself to grieve for them, it would return, but what's the point? I want to remember them both with the love and devotion they deserve.

So that's what I'll do.


Norma Jean said...

Amazingly I remember Stephen much more than I do Chris. Stephen was such a special baby. I'm sure his death affected Chris as much, if not more, than it did you.

It is a good thing that memories change from bad to good as time goes by. No matter what the mind remembers, it is often with fondness (even some of the mean, sister things). I love you, Jan.

Anonymous said...

Oh, this was such a lovely post, it has brought tears to my eyes. I blinked just now, and they are streaming down my face.

Now that I am babysitting my 8 mo old grandson 4 times a week, I constantly worry that he will choke on something he found on the floor. Just last week, I saw him sucking on a small rubber object that had fallen from a shoe cabinet. I quickly took it out of his mouth.

See what I mean? I have to be ever vigilant.

PeterDeMan said...

We both remember those days Jan, and the loss of Steven; very dark days indeed. But ya know, I'm continually amazed, especially after you and Allison bullying me into my own blog, just how many and how vivid my memories are of the distant past. Going thru all my photos, etc., have certainly jump started this old brain. The only down thing about that is we remember how vividly my father remembered his distant past, but his mind had gone totally south except for those memories. When we cared for him for a while in our house he regaled us with stories and played the harmonica with great gusto; but, at times he didn't know who either I or Norma Jean was. It was quite a time; "memories" of which we both cherish.Now, let me tell you the time........ :-)

PeterDeMan said...

Oh lordy me, I spelled Stephen's name wrong. Darn this old, useless memory.

Trish and Rob MacGregor said...

This is a beautiful post. I can't imagine losing one child, much less two. You are one brave lady, for sure.

Jo said...

Oh, Djan, this breaks my heart. To lose both children, I can't even imagine the sorrow. I like the idea of All Saints Day and All Souls Day. But we don't need a special day to remember the people we love, do we?

((((Hugs to you))))


Blissed-Out Grandma said...

You deserve to remember them with love and devotion and affection, and to enjoy the warmth those memories bring you.

Gigi said...

This was such a moving post - and yes - those children do need to be remembered with love and affection. I believe they'd rather you remember them with that than sadness.

Buz said...

I wish I could remember Stephen, and I wish I had known Chris better. Your memories feed both of those wishes. Thank you, my beautiful sister.

Donna B said...

I don't even know what to say. I just cannot imagine the grief in losing both your sons. When I read about your loss, I cry and wish I was closer so I could hug you and cry with you...or just sit on the other side of the table and sit in awe of your strength. You are a perfect example of a very strong woman. I am so glad to have met you. I admire you so very much. ((( HUGS ))))

Sharon Wagner said...

I remember reading about your loss before. I'm so sorry. I hope the fact that you stay so busy helps. I know I always wonder how you have so much time for blogging with all your hiking and skydiving adventures. But you're my favorite blog so I'm glad you do!

Far Side of Fifty said...

Your good memories are a source of comfort..as they should be. There is no time limit on mourning..you just mourn differently now than you did them...and that is ok. Two special boys..and yes they deserve to be remembered and mentioned:)

Linda Reeder said...

I read the stories of your sons when you posted them, and I remember the agony you lived with, and survived. I am so happy to hear that you can remember now with only love, and not the pain.

Robert the Skeptic said...

I get tired hearing the conservative christians denouncing Halloween as "satanic" worship. It is nothing of the kind.

The idea of The Day of the Dead is anything but satanic or morbid. It is good and important to remember those who shared life with us for a limited time, to celebrate their memory. It helps us to remember and to keep them in our hearts throughout the year.

Star said...

I like the idea of putting those sugar skulls in the window to remember loved ones who are now somewhere else. I believe we will see them again one day (in the Summerlands for me) so then it becomes more of a parting rather than a final departure. 'Until we meet again' sounds better than 'goodbye'.
A lovely idea and well worth adopting. I wonder if there is anything like that over here? I've not seen it but then I've not looked. I will take time to look.
Blessings, Star

Mel said...

Jan, I didn't know. I never got around to catching up on your posts, but now that I've read back through your links I am more in awe of the amazing person you are, so brave and wise. You have known too much pain for one life, but still you stand strong. You are an inspiration. Thanks for sharing so much of yourself here with us.
I would put those sugar skulls in my window sill too. I like the idea, and never really knew what Dia de los Muertas was really about, so thanks for that too.

Whitney Lee said...

I like the idea of celebrating your loved ones. I think, after the initial mourning, it's probably the best way to honor their memory. Perhaps I'll adopt this holiday.

It's comforting to know that after enough time passes you are left with the joy and not only the grief. This post brought tears to my eyes.