Sunday, November 03, 2013

Day of the Dead and Missing People

Since Mom passed away, I find that every little thing reminds me of her.  This is not a bad thing, but it can sometimes cause a previously normal activity like, say, eating a yogurt to fill me with sadness.  Mom liked yogurt a lot and would often eat it for breakfast.  I was eating a yogurt the other day and it made me think of her.

Or Listerine strips.  The day I started cleaning Mom's room out after she had moved into assisted living, I found a drawer full of about 20 packs of them.  I use them now to freshen my breath after I eat dinner on my break at work.

Or a movie or a song.  A few weeks ago a local movie theater was showing The Wizard of Oz on the big screen.  Jonah wanted to go, but it was one of Mom's favorite movies, and I just wasn't in the right place emotionally to be able to do it.  (I wish I had; the movie we ended up seeing, The Family, was a dud, and we ended up walking out halfway through it).

I can't hear "Smile" or "Embraceable You" or "Que Sera Sera" or a million other songs without thinking of her.

Or places.  If I'm at a Sweet Tomatoes or eating sushi somewhere, I am reminded of the many lunch dates we had together.

And of course, I am consumed with her stuff, whether it be transcribing her journals, receiving her mail, or handling her financial and legal matters.  She is ever-present with me.  And that is a good thing.  But I am also more prone to feeling great sadness at the loss of her.

Two nights ago I had the night off as did Jonah.  Jonah wanted to go to a Day of the Dead celebration at a local park.  I am not very familiar with Day of the Dead, but it's apparently a pretty big holiday in Mexican culture, and while Jonah doesn't celebrate it, it is a part of his heritage, and he had always wanted to go to one of these events.

We went with a friend of ours.  It just so happens that the park where the celebration was taking place was the same park I had taken Mom to on her last visit here.  So being there already reminded me of her.  The fact that the theme of the day had to do with death or celebrating of the lives of those who had passed only made me think of Mom more.

While intellectually I know that Day of the Dead is a celebration of life and can often even take a humorous tone, emotionally I find the art depressing.

Even though I know there is the fanciful, mocking sort of attitude towards death, to me, culturally, skulls and bones represent a side of death that seems so permanent and without life, and I know it's just a cultural difference, but it made me feel sad rather than joyous.

We passed many altars dedicated to the likes of the poor kids shot to death at Sandy Hook Elementary; victims of domestic violence or gang violence; girls who never reached adulthood (and there were dolls dressed in corn husks to represent that); and memorials to such fallen icons as Harvey Milk, Selena, Michael Jackson, and Frida Kahlo.  The more we wandered around, I just felt a great heaviness of spirit and I began missing Mom terribly.

Jonah and his friend had primarily come to examine some of the art, which just isn't my taste.  Jonah noticed I seemed withdrawn, and came up to me and said, "I'm sorry if you're not having a good time."  It wasn't that I wasn't having a good time; I actually found the experience very interesting.  I just missed my mom.  As I started to explain this to him, I just started weeping, and amidst a large crowd of people who didn't even seem to notice, Jonah just held me in his arms and hugged me tightly while I sobbed.  I told him I just felt overwhelmed by all the death talk and that we were in a place that reminded me of Mom, and it was just hard.  Jonah kept repeating "I know, I know."

Just a day before Jonah had been feeling similar emotions because his dad had always given the grandkids a ride on his miniature train for Halloween, and Jonah was feeling a deep sense of loss.

As Jonah has said, it's not easy.  We both have lost our parents so recently, and we are still grieving.  Some days are easier than others, and I feel like I'm adjusting quite well.  Other days I feel incredibly sad that our parents are no longer with us in life.

I will always miss my mom, I'm sure, although I imagine the pain will get easier just as it did after my dad died.  I miss hearing Jonah's dad hum his little songs or seeing him sit out on the front porch or hearing him ask me if I brought snow from Utah.  I see how his passing has made Jonah's mom more lonely.  I miss my dad when I hear a particular country song or "Hang Down Your Head, Tom Dooley" by the Kingston Trio.  I miss my mom when I happen across a favorite movie of hers or when I'm out to lunch at a restaurant we frequented.

I guess that's life.  And I'm grateful for the reminders that bring back pleasant memories.  I often wonder what people will miss about me when I go.

Yesterday Jonah and I went to the cemetery to honor his father.  Neither of us are really cemetery-goers, but Jonah was curious about Day of the Dead festivities that were taking place at the heavily Hispanic cemetery.  I was truly surprised by the goings-on.  There was a high school Mariachi band (a very good one at that); a taco truck, balloon animals; face-painting, people hanging out in lawn chairs, etc.  For many, it was an all day celebration.

The cemetery where Mom and Dad are buried has a reputation for being a bit solemn and quiet, which is actually how I prefer it.  I would think a Mariachi band and a taco truck would be kicked out of the cemetery for disturbing the peace.  The most music I've heard at Mom's cemetery was the sound of a lone bagpipe.  Jonah's dad's cemetery seems much more relaxed than Mom's cemetery does.  To each his own, I guess.  Truth be told, the Mariachi music was quite enjoyable.

But the atmosphere was much different than I am used to.  Not bad.  Not good.  Just different.
Jonah left some flowers, candles, a coffee cup (representing his Dad's favorite beverage), a garden glove (representing his love of gardening) with a brick on top of it (representing the foundation he built with his children and family) and a framed photo along side the other mementos that had been left, including a wrench (representing his love of fixing cars), a statue, and a piece of duct tape that said "I love you."  It's so interesting how different people memorialize their dead loved ones.  I have a feeling Mom's cemetery would only have allowed the flowers.

When we were listening to the Mariachi band, I noticed two gravestones placed very close to each other: one was a Jewish man who died at the exact same age I am now, and the other was a black man who died at 20.  I don't know why it struck me, but I liked the idea that there were no racial or religious divides in this cemetery.  I also was struck by how many young people were buried in this cemetery.  I encountered grave after grave where the deceased was in his or her teens or twenties.  I wondered why so many had died so young.

We then went to a different part of the cemetery where Jonah's grandfather was buried.  It took us a while to find him, mainly because Jonah had told me to look for a fairly new upright stone with an eagle on it.  It turned out the stone was flat rather than upright, dirty, and had no eagle on it.  It also turned out that after having walked around extensively looking for it that the stone was a mere 15 feet right in front of Jonah's truck.

After the cemetery we went over to Jonah's sister's house, where Jonah's great-nephew was celebrating his first year of life.  It seemed apropos to be celebrating his birthday after so many days focused on death.  We visited with Jonah's family and his mom.

Anyway, I miss Mom, and my Day of the Dead experience was educational.

1 comment:

LCannon said...

I miss mom, too. And I miss our traditions. I have no clue where we'll be spending Thanksgiving this year. We had mom to our house last year. It was a great last Thanksgiving memory of her. Well maybe not great - funny.