Posted by: smstrouse | October 31, 2015

Honoring My Ancestors – Even the Difficult Ones

When Facebook asks you to post your relationship status, one of the options is “It’s complicated.” That is exactly my feeling on this All Hallow’s Eve as I prepare for All Saints Day.


Celtic spirituality teaches us that this is a “thin time,” when the gossamer veil between the worlds of the living and the dead becomes even more diaphanous. This is the time to honor our ancestors and all loved ones who have died – to recognize that they’re not really all that far away from us after all.

It’s a lovely way of believing. I’ve been planning to create an altar of remembrance with photos and memorabilia from my parents, grandparents, and others who have shaped my life. But here’s where it gets complicated for me. My memories of my immediate ancestors are a complex web of love, anger, guilt, understanding, acceptance, longing, sadness – well, you get the pictugossamer_web_by_printsilike-d2xsr21re. Complicated.

Unexpected tears have welled up even as I contemplate digging out photo albums. Happy memories drift up from my unconscious: my father taking me to get my first pair of ice skates, the bus trip to Atlantic City with my grandmother. Other memories, not so happy, jostle with them for my attention: wounds forgiven but not forgotten.

I truly believe that in death we become whole. My parents, with all their own complicated histories, have received the ultimate healing – whatever and wherever that may be. The wounds they carried are healed. The ones they inflicted are forgiven. That is how life is on the other side of the veil. It’s not complicated at all.

On this side, however, healing is still incomplete. The witch’s brew of emotions roils within me. And yet  it’s not really a bad concoction, although it is rather bittersweet. On this side of the veil, I relate to the verse of the hymn For All the Saints that reminds me “We feebly struggle, they in glory shine.” Some of the theology and wording of the hymn may be outdated, but the struggle language definitely resonates.

I’m going to go and build my altar now. It will hold mementos of imperfect people who did the best they could with what they had. My own memories will go into the creation, the whole mixed up mess. There may be some tears shed, probably some smiles and laughter, too.

I do believe that within this process the veil between them and me will shimmer. And in so honoring them, I will be a bit further along in my own healing. May it be so.


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