Death is one of my favorite subjects. As a Medium I spend many hours a week talking to dead people, and much more speaking to people about the importance of mourning and honoring our dead.
Our relationship with death has in many ways been glossed over by modern media. I believe this started in the 50’s with television and the homogenization of America. We went from a nation that experienced death in the manner of our ancestors, deeply flavored by the many ethnicities that make up our nation, to a whitewashed ‘Leave it to Beaver’ style mourning. Death became an organized wake or viewing hours, a funeral, and two weeks of casseroles donated by your friends and neighbors.
We let go of all of our outward signs of mourning. Gone were the armbands, and ceremonial black dress; which now is just the standard daily uniform for a majority of folks living east of the Mississippi, leaving us with no visual signs that a person was still deeply involved in grieving their passed loved one. Instead, like all good viewing audiences, we are supposed to follow the lead of our television leaders, and put on some lipstick, tidy our hair, and show people we were not fazed by death. The only problem is, we are often not OK, and the lipstick doesn’t really do shit for the feelings we hold in our heart.
Death brings with it a deep melancholy, an overwhelming desire to hold/see a person one more time. It makes us look at our regrets, and the precious moments we wish could be repeated. Death is powerful, and we need to find a way of making the process of death and mourning sacred again. We need to forget the television version and reach instead for the old ways, that does not hide death, but instead, show us that it is normal and that feeling ‘OK’ after the death of a loved one takes time. We need to reclaim our relationship with our ancestors so that death no longer feels like isolation. We need to educate ourselves about death, take it out of the closet and get to know it a little better.
Locally and nationally there is an organization known as ‘the Death Cafe’ http://deathcafe.com The Death Cafe is not a storefront, instead, it is a group gathering that sets up shop in coffee shops, libraries, and local gathering holes. The group is open to anyone wanting to talk about death…people who are dying, people who have recently lost someone, and people just fascinated with death are all welcome. In Vermont, we have groups in Burlington, Montpelier, Johnson, Manchester, and more…
In my work as a Medium, I often talk about the importance of keeping our dead alive in our thoughts and deeds. This does not mean we pretend they are still alive, it means we interact with them as if they are still vital members of our family. In my family, we speak of our dead so often, that my children could tell you stories about ancestors who died way before they were born. They not only know the larger than life stories, but some of the simpler things, like the fact that Grammy Brown loved to smoke cigarettes, and that her father had a still on the property where he brewed moonshine back in the early 1900’s.
When the holidays come around our Beloved Dead are not forgotten. Often a plate is put out for our ancestors, that is filled throughout the day with their favorite treats. This tradition started with our Celtic ancestors who left our a feast for the dead on holy days, such as Halloween/Samhain. A traditional Dumb Supper is done on or near Halloween night, some sources say as close to midnight as possible. A table is elaborately set, as you are having a feast. Food should be thought out, including favorites of your ancestors and loved ones. The table is set for all living guest as well as all that are in spirit. At the dinner, everyone remains silent, in observation of those who cannot communicate with us any longer.
Over time traditions change, as the pattern is woven with personal beliefs and additional ethnic spices. My family, for example, is Irish Gypsy & Native American, creating a hodge-podge of hillbilly magic that is all our own…, We do not reserve the feasting of our ancestors to Halloween night alone. They get plates at Thanksgiving, Yule and other family festivities. We do not sit in silence, for that is something that does not exist in a loud Irish family. Instead, we simply place a plate for our ancestors and fill it throughout the gathering.
Here is a simple way to honor your Beloved Dead; family, friends, loved ones and ancestors, this Halloween and in the upcoming season of holidays.
*Set up a small altar in a corner of the kitchen, dining room, or living room. Place pictures of your loved ones who have crossed into Spirit on the altar, as well as small items of memorabilia that remind you of those you have lost.
*Place a plate on the altar, choose something special, perhaps something from your grandmother’s china, or a piece your sister made in pottery class. You are giving your Beloved Dead a place of honor.
*Pick one item of food to place on the plate that you know will be appreciated by your loved one in Spirit. Then tell others that they are welcome to leave a treat as well.
As the day goes on, the plate fills up with all sorts of goodness. Drinks can be left beside the plate, as can smokes, after all, I know my Dad would appreciate a beer and a smoke. Sometimes we eat whats on the plate. Some people would frown on this saying that whatever you leave for the dead belongs to them. But I am from poor stock, and my ancestors know that food should be eaten and appreciated by the living. If you decide to munch from the plate of the dead, make sure to share a story as you do. If you’re eating one of Gramma’s cherry chocolates, you damn well better be telling a story about her love of them. If you smoking your dad’s cigarette, make sure to savor it and imagine all the times you saw him sitting on the porch having a smoke.
More then anything our Beloved Dead want to be remembered, talked about and part of our lives. The more often we speak of them, and remember them through simple ceremonies, such as a plate at Thanksgiving, the easier it is for us to heal and feel their presence around us. Remember our Spirits want to make contact with us, they want to reassure us that they are OK and that there is something after death.
I hope you have a fantastic Halloween season. I will be celebrating quietly this year, with deep personal journey work and ventures into Spirit for myself. As a Medium, it is easy to tell myself that I spend a lot of time in the Spirit world, but the truth of the matter is I am working. I am helping others to connect to their Beloved Dead, it is not the same as honoring and connecting to my own Beloved Dead. I hope you enjoyed the read folks, and that you find your way to connecting to those who have been lost to you through the veil of death.