I don’t often talk about death within my personal faith, nor it’s importance. I don’t focus on what comes after and my beliefs about what it is are vague – only the fact that I believe our souls are reincarnated firm in my mind and faith. But despite the fact that I don’t think or talk about death and what comes after often, death does have a place within my faith. It has a place through my veneration of my ancestors, something that I began many years ago, but which has taken on a much more personal connection in recent years.
When my grandfather passed away, Josh and I were still living in Chicago and I knew he was ill, knew he was at the end of his life. I was sitting at home alone and I had a candle burning for him. The candle sputtered and I knew he had passed. I felt him, just a moment, there with me, and then he was gone. When my Momma called me a few minutes later, I’d already been crying. When my grandmother passed fifteen months later, I didn’t have that and for a while I beat myself up, also beating myself up for not being there to say goodbye to either of my grandparents. And as I was sitting, feeling sorry for myself, I heard my Mammaw’s voice. It was her impatient, exasperated voice that she used when her grandbabies were being silly. And it helped.
And every Samhain, I honor them and I feel close to them again. Oh, it’s not like they are actually here with me on that one night every year – and honestly I feel their presences from time to time throughout the year when I need their council. But on Samhain, I feel closer to them and it gives me peace to recognize them amongst our honored dead. And it helps ease the grief that still exists in pockets within me.
But in the last few weeks, I’ve had visits from my grandparents in dreams. In each, I knew that my grandparents were dead and that they were visiting. With my grandfather, I knew and didn’t try to deny it the whole time. I sat with him and hugged him and spoke with him knowing that our time was short. With my grandmother, I tried to convince myself that it was just another day and I could sit with my head in her lap all day. She stroked my hair for a time, but finally she spoke to me, using that same exasperated tone she’s used with me more times than she should have had to, saying my name and telling me that I knew better than that. She told me that I knew she would be going back soon. We didn’t have anything important to do, we were just spending time together, but I knew she had to return to the other side and wouldn’t be staying.
Both mornings, I woke up weeping, grief fresh in my heart. But at the same time, I was soothed by their visits. I don’t know if there was something I was supposed to learn – something I did learn that I’m not remembering right now – but I know that their visits accomplished what they were supposed to. And my faith has a lot to do with how I have dealt with their passing. Oh, the first year after (two after my grandfather)? I was a mess the way anyone is. But being able to reach out to them, honoring them, soothes a part of my spirit that platitudes like “they’re together in heaven” don’t really touch for me. I know in my heart they are together in the afterlife because they would choose no other way. But knowing their spirits can traverse the divide to watch over us, reach out to us, gives me comfort when I miss them so much.