I didn’t grow up with Halloween. Instead, we celebrated our ancestors on November 1 and 2 every year. As children, we went to the cemetery where my family members have their white tombs on top of each other, and lit multi colored candles, dripping rainbow wax that we gathered to make balls still warm to the touch. Old black and white photos of elders were brought out to remember them. Food as libations were offered. I remember running from tomb to tomb reading names of neighbors, taking shade under trees and smelling candle wax. Perhaps, this laid my own comfort level with cemeteries.
I grew up more familiar with death than most of my contemporaries here in the US. You see, when someone died in my village, there would be a procession of the coffin with a brass band playing behind it. Everyone would run to the street to pay respect on their way to the cemetery. It wasn’t hidden. We had several funerals in my house as a child so the feel of a cold corpse was sealed into my memory. I also knew that even dead people will be remembered, at least for 3-4 generations by their family members. Overall, I didn’t feel that dying was a failure as is a common belief in the United States today.
The last time I was at our family cemetery, my mother and I had taken the tri cycle there on a hot day in the Philippines. We sat on the ground as she narrated stories of her mother who died when she was a child. Then we brought in the story of my older aunt about her feelings about their father. I remember my grandfather had tattoos on his arm and he liked eating jaggery. We went down memory lane and motioned to the grave where my other aunt laid and next to her, my cousin, her only son. He was only a teenager then, and I remember as a child, feeling the deep grief of his mother as she wailed. Then all of a sudden, I began to channel my grandparents’ spirits and shared their love and regret to my mother. After which when it was finished, I vomited the yellow bile amidst the heavy perspiration that came with this communication.
During that same week, I had done a genealogy of my family five generations back by interviewing the elders remaining. I didn’t just asked for their names (so many beautiful names that are no longer used today), but I also heard the stories of marriages, of conflict between clans, and the gifts that were recognized. I remember my mother, my cousin and I received the information as a balm to our souls, coming out with a deeper understanding and compassion to how we have come to be. I still have it handwritten on fading paper inside my grandmother’s wooden jewelry box. I am reminded now that I must make copies of it to share with my kin.
Recently I have been pondering how it is for people who believe that only the body is the person, meaning there is no spirit. What happens when a person believes that this is it? That when you die, this is it? No more. No more self. No more loved one. The finality of it seems so stark and bleak to me. I have the kind of mind that tries the shoes of another to get a better perspective and understanding of another point of view. I must admit that this one was very challenging for me.
To this day, I still call upon my ancestors to help guide me. To this day, the love I feel for my departed ones is very alive in my heart. Perhaps, as I’ve matured, I’ve been able to accept that the death of a body is not a complete loss or an incomplete life either. Because of my own experiences with the spirit world, I know there is more to life than birth and death. I also celebrate whatever time I have had with those beings, whether in the body or out of the body.
For example, my paternal grandmother and I had a very closed relationship. Every time I think of her, I am filled with sweetness and gentleness. These were and continue to be her legacy to me. When I remember a deceased partner, it is his magical mind and devotion that make me smile today. As for my father, it was his surrender in the last month of his life that is etched in me. And my brother, there is a sadness that he did not grow older to fulfill his dreams.
Rabindranath Tagore aptly writes, “What was the power that made me open out into this vast mystery like a bud in the forest at midnight!” For me the departures of those I had loved opened this bud. What about you?