Day of the Dead


Today is All Souls’ Day for Christians, which gave rise to the colourful neo-Aztec Mexican tradition of the Day of the Dead (Día de Muertos).  I’m not Catholic anymore but I still miss (some of) the dead, just like everyone else.  Here is my sombre, not-Aztec-at-all memorial for some of the beings I miss.

My father Jacques.  He had flaws, but I’ve never seen another father do better; he did his goddamn best and he made a huge difference.

Both my grandfathers, Albert and Louis.  Albert was kind, loving and loved; it was a delight to see him and grandma Gilberte (who is still around) in love like teenagers until the end.  Louis was mischievous, pig-headed, capable, bossy, occasionally heroic, and loved us unreservedly.

The grandmother I never knew, Jeanette.  She died before I was born, but she left a lot of memories for my dad, which he passed on.  She loved music and in today’s world, she would have been able to both pursue a concert career and be treated for breast cancer.

The mother-in-law I never knew either, Sybil.  She left notes in many books, and stories among those who knew her.  I feel certain I would have loved her.

My step-father-in-law for too short a time, Art. He was a taciturn man with a quiet sense of humour, a gentleness and dignity about him, that made you feel the sparkle hidden behind that unassuming face.

The lady who was another grandmother to me, Eva.  She was a delight of humour, kindness, goodness, dignity, respect, and just all-around class.  She was my fairy godmother.

My uncle Clément.  Here was a sure sign he was a good man: children loved him on sight.  He was jolly, capable, dependable, funny, wily, sensible, and loyal.  He had the precious gift of being able to admit when he been wrong and make changes.

My uncle Robert.  He too was always a natural favourite with children.  He was kind, helpful, cheerful, funny, and honest.  There wasn’t a teaspoon of meanness in him.

My colleague Rob. Smart as a whip, funny and realistic, hard-working and creative, interested in everything and everyone, you couldn’t get anything past him.

My cousin André.  He was wickedly funny, a blond menace, generating ideas for pranks and experiments faster than the rest of us could execute them.  How he loved a good scary movie!  I saw Alien in the cinema with him to make him happy (when he was underage!), but I was terrified.  He was a year younger than me and died when he was fourteen.

My cats Eurekatous, Benjamin, Mrs. Pedicaris, Claude, Madame Moustache, Attila (“Meeper”), and Zouzou.  You live long enough, you’re going to have to say good-bye to a lot of pets, since they live such short lives, but it never gets easier.  Each cat I have lived with has had a very distinct personality, but it seems to be a lot easier to find a good cat than a good human.  I still look for them reflexively, after all these years.

My dogs Milady and Pitou, pup and sire.  I only had dogs as a kid because in those days I had the time and space to take care of them.  They were wonderful friends, and I’m only sorry they got to see the kid they played with daily move away to go to college, leaving them behind.

Red and blue

Dad’s headstone was just delivered and installed today. I created the design a few weeks ago; the engravers had to adjust it a bit, but it came out OK. I’m sorry they were not able to add the falling petals, but it beats having an off-the-shelf design. Reportedly, the engravers liked it enough that they plan on keeping it as an option for their catalog (I let Mom decide about the rights).

I noted a while ago that each series of photos I took while wrestling with the idea of my father’s impending death turned out to be very vivid and full of life — almost jarringly so, and the last series contained a lot of red (there are more images than that small set, that’s just a display bit.) When I noticed this, I thought about the meanings of the colour red. Blood, life, death, vitality, danger, joy, power, energy, bravery… Red is a very strong colour, and in an image it can overwhelm other elements. Our eye is instinctively drawn to red.

In the reflections off the stone in this image, you can see Mom’s silhouette and the red splash of the begonias she placed. I guess we made the same colour association.

After death

Between discussions on religions, the anniversary of my father’s death, and a book I just read, I got to thinking about that old question, what happens to us after we die. I certainly don’t picture the kind of heaven where people in white robes sit on clouds and pluck harps, and I don’t believe in hell at all.

But everything leaves something behind. Our molecules break apart as we are digested by worms, but what we really want to know, of course, is what happens to our consciousness, our spirit, our soul.

This afternoon we took a walk on the beach and for a while sat on a wonderful old redwood stump. My eyes and fingertips could read so much history in its grain: a tree growing gnarled and imposing in life, chopped down and the stump uprooted, probably tumbling into a stream to reach the sea, buffed and smoothed by the waves, then at long last come to rest on the beach in a semblance of life.

A lot of this happened after the tree was cut down, the events still leaving marks in the wood. The tree is dead, and yet it continues to age, to hold the tree-like shape, to be part of the world. Maybe our lives are a bit like that: after we are gone there is a memory, in the shape of our spirit, still interacting with the warp and weft of life. It’s in the way we live our lives, the legacy we leave, the grain and polish of our deeds and the way they marked others.

No reason

No good reason, anyway. I’m just blue tonight. I’m reading a sad book; I’m disappointed in a personal project that had me all excited; and money flows out too fast.

So here’s a recent image I was happy with, to leave something with nicer at the end of the day.