This afternoon as I walked through a hallway at San Diego Hospice, I stopped at a table decorated with what I thought were Halloween decorations. “What’s this?” I said, as clueless as an ugly American traveling abroad – totally out of touch with the culture within which I was visiting. San Diego Hospice. Grief. Loss. October. Skeletons. Day of the Dead. Duh! It dawned on me. The alter was set up to honor “El Dia de los Muertos” – or “Day of the Dead,” the holiday celebrated in Mexico and Latin America to honor those deceased.
Okay, I’m not really that insensitive regarding culture, or the culture of grief for that matter. After all, I am a therapist and have experienced more than the usual dose of grief in my life; these two things make me more receptive than the average bird when it comes to loss. Why then was I so checked out as to what the skeletons and candles signified as I stood mesmerized by them?
The answer lies in the denial that comes with trauma. For here I am, a year after my mom’s suicide still trying to make sense of it – still not fully able to metabolize this loss. Which is why I am still receiving grief counseling, even though I only see the therapist about once a month now. The fact that I still clench my teeth at night something terrible makes me realize how pervasive grief is, particularly under such circumstances. My incessant TMJ signifies “too much junk.” Too much left over sadness and anger that seeps out in my sleep like the spirits lurking on All Soul’s Day.
My mom loved Halloween and it is one of the few holidays that I have no association with her alcoholism. Halloween came right after the start of school and when I was young, this was a fantastically happy time. My mom was good at instilling structure and stability during those early years, so when I see the leaves turn and pumpkins on doorsteps, I think of mom getting me to bed at the same time each night and helping me with homework. I think of good things. I think of her.
If Halloween conjures images of scares and nightmares, my worst has already happened. My mom finally took her own life. And now, sitting in the weight of this, I am left with the waking up part. Seeing the light of day. Remembering her. Loving her and moving forward. Which I know is what she wants me to do.
After a year of sifting through the traumatic elements of my mom’s death, now the grief is softening. Becoming more organic and less horrifying. Good memories start to surface and I’m starting to feel my mother’s spirit, loving and supporting me in ways she couldn’t when she was alive. And as I go back to school – at forty – I feel my mom about me – an angel proclaiming the Good News – at the very moment I study it.
Yes, after the Fall, we can be delivered. We can make our way back to the Garden. Thanks be to God.