A social media post reminded me the other night that it was a year to the day since my cousin, Joe died. I’m sad I didn’t remember, I spoke to his mom earlier that day. We talked for an hour about all sorts of trivial things, but she didn’t mention him till we were wrapping up. Even then, she told me it was his wife that missed him. She said: “Lizzy called this morning and told me she had been dreaming of Joe.” I’m usually more on the ball and can pick up things with my “third ear.” She called because she was sad, but I missed it.
I grew up close to my cousin and his sister. Our families would get together every weekend when we were kids in Brooklyn. He was the best man at my brother’s wedding. He went to prep school in New England on a scholarship, and after that, as the years past, we saw each other very little. I know he was a family man; crazy about his kids and a good husband. His son posted a sweet memorial that day and wished his dad would have been around to meet his first granddaughter.
When hurricane Maria caused chaos in Puerto Rico, Joe went to get his recently widowed mom and brought her back to stay with his family until he was sure things were better in her town. It was November when he dropped his mom off at the airport. That day, Joe told his mom that he wasn’t planning to retire anytime soon. He liked his job and was in good health. “I’m in it for the long haul,” he told her. They said goodbye, and he went to work. A few hours later, a co-worker found him slumped over his desk. It was his heart. He was 60 years old. My aunt didn’t go to the funeral; she didn’t want to see her little boy buried.
This incident got me thinking about how after death, life goes on around us here on earth. I remember feeling disconnected from everything and everyone whenever I’ve lost someone very close to me. I sat at my desk one day holding back tears because I was in pain and the world keep spinning on its tilted axis. The sun and the moon each came up as scheduled, people worked, laughed and played all around me as they had the day before and the day before that. I wanted to scream “STOP! It still hurts, Can’t you see? I’ve lost a part of me.” Intellectually, I know we all take turns with grieving one thing or another; and we all grieve differently, but at that moment, it hit me how personal grieving really is, but as they say, “the beat goes on.”
Growing up, as an Evangelical in Brooklyn, I knew nothing of the “Day of the Dead” traditions. In that fundamentalist religious culture, anything otherworldly is anathema, considered evil and would lead straight to perdition. It is that way for Halloween and the “pagan” Gaelic origins in Samhain. I find it interesting that both the Aztecs and ancient people of Scottish-Irish islands had similar celebrations before Christianity got to there. I was curious and learned that other ancient cultures in addition to China and Japan also set aside one day to celebrate or honor the dead ancestors.
I found out later in life that my grandparents traditionally celebrated the Day of the Dead, but with a somber tone. Even though they were not Catholic, they liked to be respectful of the family members who passed on before them. It was a day of quiet reflection for them. When I converted to Catholicism several years ago, I found the celebrations of All Souls Day and All Saints very comforting. I’m glad that the Church did not erase the sentiment behind these “pagan” traditions.
In my family, we have lost many loved ones prematurely by today’s standards, but really who is to say how many days are in the itinerary for this journey. Because we don’t know, we are encouraged to live each day to the fullest, to take every opportunity or to “make it a great day.” What happens when things don’t work out the way we plan?
A long time ago, I decided to embrace the idea that life or success is not a straight shot. At least it hasn’t worked that way for me or others I have met along the way. As I mentioned to someone the other day, getting to our goal is perhaps more like using the subway system or public transit to get our errands done at the different stops along the way. Let’s say we have a “to do” list, and sometimes we forget or miss an item and have to go back, or we find something interesting but unexpected, and we are detained for longer than we planned.
Of course, sometimes the train malfunctions and we need to rethink our strategy. The problem is out of our control, but we need to get things done. What do we do? We get out and walk, take the next train, find other means of transportation or look at how we can rearrange priorities to maximize our time.
I’ve been fortunate to have great role models. Grandparents, parents, aunts, and uncles who taught me that is possible to overcome obstacles. I have heard stories of any one of them who was helpful to someone in need, even though they may have been confronting their own struggles. People remember them with love and admiration.
None of them were famous or of great wealth, but they left a mark that they were here. During these days of celebrating life and death, I didn’t light candles or put out food for their visit, but I remember them and honor their lives every day. And if there is a bridge or door or whatever for the spirits of our loved ones to visit, I hope they are pleased with how their seeds have grown and flourished.
I loved the movie “Coco” #Disney magic.