For weeks, my diary had been marked ‘Nov 10- Day of the Dead’. Capital letters, and in pen, not pencil. I told friends about it; tried to cajole my teenage son into going; turned down other invites for that day; I was committed. In a previous post here, I’d written about how important I believe it is to remember and celebrate our ancestors, which is a significant national day in many parts of the world.
So I drove to my local park at the appointed hour, and was greeted by the fresh smell of incense, and the bubble of a hot urn for free herbal teas. Various brightly dressed people were putting finishing touches to the information display, and there was a sense of reverence, provided by the experienced organisers:
I wandered, preparing myself to decorate a cloth flag, or to peg up an image or some words that would convey an essence of Dad. Other visitors were propping photos of their lost loved one among the exposed roots of the fig tree, and I leaned closer in to see their faces:
And then a voice inside me said ‘No, I’m not doing this today. I want to go home.’
I took a deep breath, straightened my shoulders, and headed towards the pottery table, where I could mould a raw symbol of my love.
The voice got louder: ‘I am so not into this right now. And I’m SO not fucking playing with clay!”
Another deep breath. An attempt at self-negotiation: how about if I take a few steps back, snap some photos for my blog, and just relieve the pressure for a moment?
Good idea Gabrielle; no protest from within.
A quiet circling of the site, shooting from different angles, and then a soft advance toward the main tree branch again…
…‘If you take one more step, or stay one more minute, I am going to have the biggest tantrum you’ve ever seen, including crying hysterically while flailing my arms and shoving off well-meaning mourners. I don’t want to share, and I don’t want to care. Get me outta here now!’
O………K…………. Looks like we’re leaving then.
I tried not to skip toward the car. But it was hard not to.
I tried not to drive away with a screeching of hot tyres. But it was hard not to.
It was impossible not to smile with relief.
So did I fail? Did I disrespect Dad by not staying? Was I cowardly?
I realized I just wasn’t ready. Intellectually, I love the idea, and want to make it a national holiday, but emotionally, I couldn’t cut it. Not that day anyway.
So I came home early, to my son’s surprise, and wasn’t in floods of tears, also to his surprise. We played cards, laughing and teasing, then cooked a delicious roast dinner together. Dad would have loved that, and I could almost feel him smiling as we two giggled and cooked.
Every day can be Day of the Dead: using the furniture we inherited from loved ones, or passing their photo in its special frame on the wall. A laugh or an attitude can be handed down across generations, while of course physical appearance is a direct link to our past. I can choose every day to acknowledge Dad, and to give him more attention if I feel like it, such as on his birthday. He would love me to listen to myself, and to not go through with something ‘because I’m supposed to, or because it’s what others expect.’
He would be just fine about me driving away from the park, and would have assured me I wasn’t ‘failing’.
Thanks Dad x