In loving memory of Jane W. LaFever – February 1, 1948 to November 18, 2012
Her small hand, that was once so tiny, tentatively inches towards the fire holding a slip of notebook paper. If you could zoom in and see what was drawn on the piece of lined paper you would see what appears to be a green light bulb with two small figures inside. And if you could zoom in deeper, into her mind perhaps, you would know that the two figures are her and her Granny sitting in the basket of a hot air balloon. And zooming in still further, into her heart, you would see (or feel perhaps) the love she has for her Granny, a granny she only met a few times when she was so small that she does not remember. She loves her nonetheless, proving that love does not need to come from knowing. Her hand releases the paper and she quickly pulls it away from the heat while the small sheet quickly catches fire, becoming ash.
On November 18th, 2012 my mom passed away at the age of 64. “How do I keep her alive?,” is a question always in my heart. I am loath to admit there are many days that I do not think of her at all which is all too easy because I live on the opposite coast from where I grew up. This place doesn’t speak much of her. This day, however, is not one of those days, but this is not only due to it being the anniversary of her death but also because we intentionally reconnect with her on this day. How do we do that?
The first year after her death, as I struggled to make sense of it and how it related to my life, we started doing a small ceremony which involves writing notes to her and then either speaking them out loud or not and tossing them into a fire. Usually this occurs outside over an open fire where there may or may not be marshmallows involved. Due to tonight’s rain, however, we decided to stay indoors instead and started a fire in our woodstove.
Ceremony is often said to be how we remember to remember and there is something powerful in our simple ceremony. Firstly, it connects us to her because writing her a letter or small note is incredibly ordinary and deeply intimate. It really does feel like we are talking to her, which is something that we always did so easily with her. Secondly, it serves as a way to connect our kids with the granny that they will never really meet. Madeleine was there when she died but quite young and Juniper was not yet born. Tonight as I told Maddie what I was going to do, she asked if she could write something to Granny. It was touching. “Of course,” I said. Thirdly, this ceremony allows us to keep death a part of our life. I know that may sound contradictory but so often we feel deep sadness at the passing of a loved one and then we move on (or not) and never really speak of it again. We seem to want to forget what a big role death plays and that its inevitable. Death is such an important, and mysterious, part of living that I think it’s imperative that we talk about it and live with it. A ceremony like ours is a way to frame it and make it a part of our life. Lastly, it’s cathartic to engage in this ritual because it provides an opportunity to give voice to things deep within and to let them go. For me, this may be in the form of fears or insecurities that I may have. An example of this is that I worry about how I am going to ever explain to my daughters what an extraordinary woman my mom was. Illustrating the power of ceremony, what we do on this night helps me talk with my kids about her allowing me to let go of some of that fear.
I am grateful for this ceremony, both the connection and release that I feel from it. Robin Wall Kimmerer said that, “Ceremony focuses attention so that attention become intention” and I suppose that is really what this ceremony does. By focusing our attention on my mom we remember to remember her and by paying attention to death we remember that it is a part of life.
We watch Maddie’s piece of paper for a moment and suddenly it lifts off the burning wood and floats upwards before falling back into a charred pile. In that moment I knew that Maddie and Granny were up in that hot air balloon and that they were laughing and enjoying the ride!
Posted by David LaFever