I love that there are 3 days in a row that are relegated to the Dead. It is absolutely my favorite time in the calendar. First is Halloween, a fun celebration to prepare for the more somber (yet still colorful!) All Saints Day and Dia De Los Muertos. Lately I have been thinking a lot more about my father, and sort of half-wondering why he was particularly on my mind. Then I realized that the question is less why has he been at the forefront of my consciousness and more why is he not constantly in my thoughts?
I am currently reading Madeleine L’Engle’s account of her 40 year marriage to Hugh Franklin, A Two-Part Invention (what would a blog post from me be without a mention of a book?). When, sitting on a park bench yesterday while Olive slept in her stroller beside me, I read that Hugh’s birthday was the 24th of August, I promptly burst into tears, as that is my father’s birthday, and I was needing a little sign of his presence so badly.
When my father first died, in July of 2002, all I felt was his absence. At 21, this was back when I had the time to read The New Yorker cover to cover each week. The edition sitting on my nightstand held this poem by Henri Cole, which became so important to me that I have committed it to memory:
After the death of my father, I locked
myself in my room, bored and animal-like.
The travel clock, the Johnnie Walker bottle,
the parrot tulips — everything possessed his face,
chaste and obscure. Snow and rain battered the air
white, insane, slatherly. Nothing poured
out of me except sensibility, dilated.
It was as if I were sub-born — preverbal,
truculent, pure — with hard ivory arms
reaching out into a dark and crowded space,
illuminated like a perforated silver box
or a little room in which glowing cigarettes
came and went, like souls losing magnitude,
but none with the battered hand I knew.
Over time, this experience of loss-as-absence shifted to my feeling his presence, all around me, all the time. The beauty of a dead loved one is they are not fixed in a body made of the same particles as stars — their soul can be with you in your daily life. All Saints is about celebrating those who have gone before you, and asking them to pray for you.
I wonder, what kinds of prayers would my father pray for me? For me to be safe. For me to kick ass. For my daughter to grow and shine, and for me to know the joy of parenting as he did. For me to be able stick by my sister, loving her as my one sibling in life. For me to have good care for my mom, and look out for her. For his buddy Joel, that he can be a good husband to me and father to Olive. For me to express myself fully in dance, writing, and art. For me to have the strength to keep my commitments and not be “a quitter” or do “a half-assed job”. For me to laugh the full-bellied laugh he bequeathed to me, every day of my life.
I truly love the Day of Dead, and since moving to San Francisco, I have really enjoyed creating altars and heading over to Garfield Park in the Mission for the celebration and honoring of those who have died. Tonight, I am unable to make it, as I have to work. I already made my altars earlier this month, at a Family night I organized at Holy Innocents to teach the kids this way to ritualize grief. But I miss my father so dearly today and want to honor him, so I figured I’d make an online altar to him here, sharing with you some of my favorite pictures of him, and a few of him with his brother, George, my beloved uncle and Godfather, who is also one of the saints I ask to pray for me. I miss them with every last bit of my being. They make me who I am today.