The Breath of the Ancestors

When I was young, Halloween was my favorite holiday, because I loved the costumes. On Halloween, you could be anyone and I wasn't all that happy being me. Today, even though I finally love myself, this is still one of my favorite times of year. And while I still love to dress up, it's not because of the element of disguise, but because of how close the thinning veil brings us to the wisdom of the ancestors and to our beloved dead. I don't think about it often, but like all of us, my life has been punctuated with loss. My father, my grandparents, my half-sister, friends, loves, many of them already gone before I turned 30.

Before I even came into this world, I had already lost a brother. It is a grief my mother has carried with her for 49 years. She still talks about her little Mark, even more so now as she advances into dementia. For her, the veil seems to grow thinner as her disease progresses. Other caregivers tell me their loved ones "hallucinate," but there are moments when I wonder if it's just a closer awareness and growing connection to the other side as they prepare for their own journeys across the veil. In many ways, patients with Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia are walkers between worlds. Their bodies are here, and yet pieces of them are already sometimes drifting, sometimes being torn away in heartbreaking ways.

But for me at this age, the veil is more distant except for those rare moments like around Samhain and Beltane when it comes closer. Maybe it's that way for you too. When I was young, there was always an edge of spookiness, of thinly cloaked fear around the holiday. I remember writing a letter to my brother on Halloween. I was still a child, an only child, and wanted so desperately to know what it was like to have a sibling who was there and who cared. Struggling to belong, my quirky little Piscean heart felt that if he were still around, there'd at least be one place where I fit in.

Today, this time of year fills me with the same sort of longing for the departed, but now I see it as a celebration of those who have gone before me and a reminder that our time here is not infinite. We must make the most of it. And so, I do not fear them, but pull them close to me, to dance with them in joyful celebration of their lives and listen for their wisdom and what they have to teach me. And that is how much of today will be spent - in the sacred space of journey, journaling and listening for the messages that linger in the air.

I think that's one of the reasons I love working with stories so much in my mentoring programs. They keep this sacred space of receptivity to the wisdom of the ancestors open for me and for my students year round. Just as we do today, our ancestors created stories to understand our world and put it in context. The folklore and tales that have been passed through generations through the breath of the ancestors connect us to a knowing that is so much greater than ourselves. Working with them is my way of celebrating where we come from in ways that use the experience of those who walked before to help us show up as our best selves and to create a better world for those who come after us. Because one day, they will be telling our stories.