We’ve just celebrated another Halloween. All of the little ghosts and goblins have walked from house to house sweetly asking for treats while their parents watched them from only a few feet away. The annual tradition of scary movies and dressing up in costumes has come and gone once again while the focus in many cultures and religions moves to All Saints Day, All Souls Day and the Day of the Dead. November first and second are important reminders of those who have died before us and a way of remembering them for the contributions that they gave to our world. These are the days of honoring the millions and millions of souls who once walked on the earth filled with many of the same dreams and concerns that all humans experience during a lifetime.
As I write this I am also communicating via text with my twin grandsons who have now spent twenty years among us. I am recalling the glorious day when they were born. It was filled with so much excitement and inestimable amounts of joy. Loved ones who are now gone were present on that day to welcome the two beautiful baby boys into our family. Excitement was ever present as we waited for my daughter to give birth. My mother-in-law Mary was there as was my son-in-law’s father, Gary. My mother waited at home. As new lives came into our family circle we were not thinking that some of members of our family who celebrated with us might not still be around when the little ones became twenty year old men. Mary, Gary and my mother did not live long enough to see them reach their twenties.
Time passes and we take it for granted that everyone that we love will still be with us, even as we understand that none of us are immortal. The day will come to say goodbye just as surely as new births will continue to enhance the beautiful circle of life that enfolds us all. It is a lovely idea to pause each year to remember those who came before us, some of whom we never even had the chance to meet. They are as much a part of our story as those that we cherish in life. Many of them are only names on a family tree. Some are ciphers whose existence we know had to happen, but whose identity remains unknown. We feel a connection to them even as we may not have any idea who they were.
I often gaze at my family tree and attempt to put faces and stories together. I want to remember and honor my ancestors. Some stand out more than others like my great grandmother Marion Rourke Mack for whom there is no information, a photo or even a date of birth. I only know that she died shortly after giving birth to my paternal grandfather. I think of her often and feel that I understand how horrible it must have been for her to realize that she would not live to watch her baby boy grow into a remarkable man. I do not know what the complications were that left her dying so soon, but I can imagine because when I gave birth to my first child I had difficulties that caused my doctor to mention that in another era I might have lost my life. I wonder if Marion and I were physically similar. Did I inherit her problem? Was I fortunate enough to live in a time of wonder for medicine that she did not enjoy?
I want to know more about my great grandparents who lived in Slovakia. I know their names and where they lived but little more. I wonder how they felt when their children, my grandparents sailed across the ocean to start a new life in the United States. Did they miss their son and their daughter? Did they know what a wonderful family would grow from their babies? Would they even think that one day someone in their line would wonder about them and try to imagine what they looked like and how they lived?
I look at my family tree and I am able to go very far back into the history of how I came to be. I have a vivid imagination so I attempt to understand who these people were. I have walked through the battlefields of the Civil War where my great grandfather was present as a Union soldier. I have found myself wondering how he dealt with the horror of that war. I know from military records that it left him with physical ailments that never went away. Since he moved far from civilization after the war I tend to believe that he was done with violence and wanted to live out the rest of his life peacefully.
I go back to names from England, Normandy and Norway. I imagine them sailing across the English Channel or looking out into the North Sea. I wonder about the people who came to the new world just as my maternal grandparents would one day do at the dawn of the twentieth century. Who were these people? What drove them to be so adventurous? How did they look? How did they sound? What would they think of how things turned out?
I feel a kinship with these people whom I never met. The connection between us looms strong even as I have only questions about them. We are eternally linked by DNA but also by a spirit that traveled through the centuries. It is a lovely idea to pause each year to remember them and the gifts that they unknowingly handed down through the generations. I enjoy gazing at the branches of the tree on which their names and even unknown names sit attesting to their lives. Our common humanity is glorious and I hope that they somehow know how much I honor them. I always want to remember and honor the souls who came before us.