I recently discovered that my grandmother’s best friend died after a long illness that had left her incapacitated. Mary and my grandma had been through everything under the sun together. Leaving Cuba, making a new life in the US, marital dramas, you name it…these women stuck together like glue and were closer than family. After my grandmother died in 1980, Mary continued to be an important presence in our lives. In crisis times, she was the go-to woman with her incredible skill and accuracy in divination and her encyclopedic knowledge of Cuban folk magic. Her leaving is a sea change: she was the last of my grandmother’s intimate circle.
This may sound odd, but I am happy for Mary. She had been ill and not herself for a very long time and I know that now she is with her loved ones and friends. I get the sense that she is happy to be free and that she and my grandmother will soon be up to their old tricks again. As we head towards Samhain, I look forward to honoring her as part of my own ancestral house. I will lay out a feast, light candles and celebrate all of those who came before. Those who were and are family by blood or by love, whose care and sacrifices nourished the family line and enabled us to thrive. I will speak to them, sing to them, call out their names in love and remembrance. They will be honored and celebrated.
Pagans do a pretty good job at honoring the dead at Samhain. However, I would posit that Samhain is but once a year and that we can do better and establish deeper relationships with our ancestors by maintaining a regular practice with them during the entire year. Yes, this time of year the dead are particularly close…but once a deep, ongoing connection is forged they can be close all the time. Our loved ones don’t stop loving us or stop being family just because they die. They are around us and reaching for us all the time. The gulf between the living and the dead can be bridged and relationships can continue to thrive and grow and be a source of strength indefinitely. That being said, I look forward to breaking out the Baraja (Spanish cards), some Cuban coffee and having a nice long catch-up with Tia Mary.
As our loved ones pass on…especially those who were part of the community of practitioners, it can only benefit us to strengthen and maintain our ties all year. Now I am thinking of some of our pagan elders who have recently left us. In addition to celebrating their lives we should be keeping the lines of communication open and asking for their continued guidance and blessings and making offerings of thanks in return.
Nothing is ever truly lost. Noone ever truly leaves us. Samhain offers us the opportunity to celebrate this and to begin to weave our connections to our ancestors, family and friends in whole new way. It is my prayer that we will each take the opportunity to deepen our relationships with our ancestors and to celebrate the intimate ties that exist between us.