I see that death is still in the air. I use Feedly to aggregate the blogs I follow, and today it greeted me with this post by Deb about visiting the beloved dead; this one about Undertaking LA, the “progressive funeral parlor” which happens to be handling my mother’s mortal remains at this very moment; the first in a promised series of posts on the Shinto way of death; this one which isn’t actually about death per se, but made me think of death because the Welsh god Gwyn ap Nudd is a psychopomp and underworld power associated with the Wild Hunt; and this one which also isn’t about death but references death, the descent into the underworld, and resurrection in the Maya cosmological context.
I’m sensing a theme here.
Not that that is entirely unexpected. There’s just something about the end of October…is it only a northern hemisphere thing? There’s Samhain/Halloween, the Chrysanthemum Festival (lunar date), Día de los Muertos, and not coincidentally the sign of Scorpio. Halloween has always been my favorite holiday, but it seems like it ain’t what it used to be. Am I merely becoming crotchety in my middle age? People don’t seem to put the thought and care into it that they used to. This year I keep seeing things about “trunk-or-treating,” which I guess is more of this helicopter parent stuff where children aren’t allowed to go out at night and roam the neighborhood, even in the safety of their packs. For comparison, when my mom was a kid, they took the trick part of trick-or-treat seriously, stealing yard furniture and garbage cans, TPing people’s houses, throwing handfuls of dry corn kernels at their doors to make a racket, and so on. I think we should bring back Mischief Night. And when I was a kid, we rode around unrestrained in the back of a pickup truck, and later, having moved to the city, we went out with one adult who maintained a respectful distance. Sorry, but “trunk-or-treat” is a fucking travesty. Do not do this to your children. “Controlled and safe” is the antithesis of Halloween, and it might just be What’s Wrong With the World Today.
Anyway, up until my late 20s I guess, Halloween never disappointed. It was exciting because you just never knew what would happen, what with the disguises and being out late, the sugar rush and alcohol buzz, chill weather, and that whiff of liminality and leaf litter in the air. I remember when it changed–well, I don’t remember the calendar year, but I remember how it went down. My friend Heather made a bid to host the annual grad student Halloween party. She went all out with the decorations, I mean she even turned the crawlspace in her basement into a barrow full of treasure and ghosts. It was beautiful, spooky, and really captured the proper insouciant mood. But she unwittingly pissed off the woman who had hosted the previous couple years, who gave her the cold shoulder, some people didn’t even show up, and everything got really awkward. Heather was bummed. From then on, the previous hostess got her hostessing hegemony back, but the Halloween party became just another standing-around-drinking-and-listening-to-’90s music thing. It never again lived up to the sense of anticipation.
Maybe it was just something that happened within my circle of acquaintances (I hope so). Or maybe it was a reflection of a wider trend. My sense is that there is a magical current at this time of year into which one can tap, but it requires more than just fancy dress, a little sexual license, and booze. For me it seems to be some combination of beauty, a sense of mortality, and a willingness to think mythically and aim to misbehave. Suspension of disbelief is critical. I’ve long wanted to host a dumb supper but haven’t been able to assemble a right-minded list of guests. One day, though…
That actually was kind of a digression. My mom died last Sunday, on the New Moon which I think was rather stylish timing on her part. It was peaceful, and so far as I could tell, painless. The most unexpected aspect of grief, I am finding, is catastrophic brain fog. My dad says bereavement takes a lot of processing and one can’t expect to be operating at full mental capacity for quite a while. Taking care of myself, especially cooking, is surprisingly difficult. It just requires too much advance planning and too much attention span. If this post seems unusually rambly or flaky, that would be why.
So now I am packing and sorting and donating and throwing away in preparation to move (on which more later in another post, when I can think better). Sorting through a loved one’s belongings is a strange feeling. There are artifacts that mean nothing to you, that you have never seen and may not even be able to identify, yet which were lovingly curated for decades. It doesn’t seem right to throw them away, but needs must. For the first time I’m starting to see my mom as a person independent of me, the child. I mean, intellectually I knew that, but I never understood it till now. In some sense, I don’t think I’ve ever been closer to my mom, but she’s never been more of a mystery to me.
Weirdest of all is that I found a skeleton in the closet.
Oh, you think that’s a metaphor? Nope, I found a literal skeleton in a box in the closet. When I opened the box all I could see was crumpled newspaper; I picked up a piece and teeth fell out. I looked down to see a clump of ancient hair and vertebrae in my hand. This is the kind of thing that happens when you have archaeologists for parents, but I must say I was astounded that my mom didn’t tell me about it. I mean, that’s a hell of a thing to spring on a person. But it certainly is fitting for the season.