Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Honoring Ancestors II

While participating in an Honoring Our Ancestors retreat/workshop this past weekend, I was awakened to new ways of considering my personal, hidden anger of questioning family members' behavior regarding death and dying. In one of the workshop sessions, I was surprised, make that shocked, to have felt and acted as though my voice was that of my deceased mother's voice; in speaking to me more than once, she/I verbalized in action and words, her own deep-seeded grief and mourning over the loss of her dear husband, my loving father. A grief that she always kept from me, answering every inquiring question of mine with, "Honey, I'm fine." I didn't understand then but I may have a notion now of her great overwhelming and private sorrow at the time of my Father's death.

A chief revelation of the weekend for me is that my family was very logical in its handling of death and in getting the grieving "done, over, end of sentence, done!" While reflecting on past losses of ancestors I actually knew, I realized that I had never really grieved for them. The announcements of their deaths were made usually via telephone, we gathered (often I was not present) proceeded to the funeral home, greeted family and friends, to the cemetery, back to the house, ate a lot of food and everybody went home. Each to grieve the loss in their separate way or perhaps to not grieve at all.

Certainly, when I was a young teen, a beloved Uncle died of a brain aneurysm, my parents - leaving me behind with a very capable aunt - drove day and night to reach the hospital prior to his death, (our home several states away) attended the funeral, came home. I was weak with despair at their departure, fearing that they might not return and devastated that I was never to see my Uncle again. I suppose all assumed there was no reason a child or even a teen should be burdened with grief.

Two of my grandparents had dementia at the end of their lives. When "their time came" the words echoed were - "it was time, they didn't know anything" (meaning we shouldn't feel anything, our own loss?) Other of my uncles and aunts died from cancer - the words being - "they were delivered from their pain, it was a blessing at the end, they're in a better place now" - I, living in another state, barely heard of their deaths.

My point #1 is - how could I have allowed these precious people to pass from their lives, out of my life with so little recognition of what they meant to me? My point #2 is - why didn't my parents let us grieve, why didn't they grieve more openly, didn't they realize that their loss was my loss as well? And my point #3 - the BIG revelation for me was and is - they didn't share their grief because no one ever taught them how important that sharing that grief was for them and for the balance of their loved ones.

That point #3? - I am so over "blaming" my ancestors for not sharing more of themselves with me and with my siblings in time of grief. They didn't know any better than what their parents and grandparents taught them. Grief was private, not a big display, and "getting over it," I think, must have been very important in order for them to continue their daily lives.

Feeling the nearness of my ancestors this past weekend and upon sharing tales of childhood, youth, and adulthood with 10 other women, I found that in some ways my experiences with death and grief were sometimes very close to that of others. Sharing stories in a trusted group of women can be a powerful tool for facing one's own mistakes, misgivings, loves, losses, and living.

I am the one that was honored this weekend to realize that my living family and my ancestoral family are both essential to the person I am, the person I am becoming, the person I want to be. I am grateful for the love, encouragement and steadfastness that has come to me from the persons of my immediate family and from those ancestors of whom I know little or nothing about. They are truly to be honored by my existing family and me.

SS Photo - Hood Canal - Site of retreat


  1. What a marvelous reflection! I love your conclusion - "I am the one that was honored this weekend to realize that my living family and my ancestoral family is essential to the person I am, the person I am becoming, the person I want to be" and how blessed we all are that your ancestors brought your beautiful spirit into the world.

  2. I really valued listening to the insights in this and your previous post, and it sounds as if the weekend was wonderful.

    My reactions as I read this post did make me realise something though: there's a big part of me, too, that thinks grieving should be private. I don't think that means one grieves any the less, it doesn't mean one is "over" it.

    I know it has never occurred to me to share any of my grievings with my family members in any really deep sense. Has that been hurtful and difficult for them? A question I don't remember asking myself before.

  3. Abbey - yes, the place in which my ancestors have followed me is one of blessing - not all good all the time - but so filled with positive images in my life. Tx for reading:)

    Tess - I too agree that to some degree all grieving is personal but on the other hand I believe the grief needs to "recognized" and "embraced" in order for it to be healing. Never having shared that recognition with my birth family in any large way I believe has been a loss for me and perhaps for them too. My Mother's role of lonely grieving and living with a stiff upper lip is a burden to me, a regret that I did not recognize or tend to better when she needed it. Also, the role of caring or sharing grief or the lack of it with my siblings over the loss of our Father and the death of our Mother seems something we all could have benefited more from had we shared at the time. I know I started grieving for the loss of our Mother the first time she did not recognize me as her daughter. I lived with that until she died which was years later so a lot of my grieving had been accomplished prior to her death.....yes, it is personal in many ways. I guess the "hiddenness" seems not right to me? Thank you so much for reading and commenting.


  4. So much of what you wrote resonated with me. I was an adult, in grad school, when my father lay dying in a hospital, something we knew was coming. My mother called me, but told me not to come down until the funeral. Even my last Christmas at home (two months before my father died), my father did not come out of his room to say good-bye when I had to return to Canada. It was the same with the passing of all my grandparents. Everything was private and to spare the children grief.
    And when it came to my mother's dying, I did not know what to do, how to feel. I, too, began mourning when she no longer recognized me or even knew she had children. It is somehow good to know one is not alone in such experiences. Like you said, they knew no better and they paid a tremendous price in bearing so much pain alone.
    May they all rest in peace.

  5. Dear Barbara, Thank you so much for sharing your words about grief. I am hopeful that my children will recognize the need to share their grief in any loss that they encounter. They will probably learn some positive things from me about that and no doubt they will consider some of my notions about grief to just be preposterous. Like our parents, we'll do the best we can with our family, friends, and loved ones in supporting their sorrow in the best way we know how.

  6. So much truth in this reflection, truth many of us share with you.

    Your last paragraph especially stays with me.

  7. Maureen - thanks for your comment. The last paragraph means a great deal to me. I owe so much to my ancestors!

  8. you know this post resonates with me from beginning to end. i read it a few days ago with tears in my eyes and didn't have time to respond then. i am blessed to continue this journey with you. talking about & experiencing healing that at times i didn't know needed to happen.

    here is my response to tess' post:

    tess says: “grieving is a lonely and lengthy process which eventually leads to healing, and I’m not convinced there is any authentic way of sharing this solitary journey on a deeply personal level.”

    lucy says: BUT/AND sometimes we need to try and share it to even give voice or weight to our own feelings. it wasn’t until i started to articulate and write some of my own experiences that i even knew i needed to grieve them. i had been carrying around a mysterious heavy object that i didn’t know existed until i tried to describe it.


    i, too, owe much to my ancestors AND to my "living" kin - every, single one of them! :-)

  9. Dear Lucy,

    In your response to me you've captured what I intended to say, (so maybe I said it?)....articulating our known and unknown feelings and being allowed to share them with others brings a whole new picture into view. Things we didn't even known were hidden, often exposed for the better and worked on if they exposure reveals something we find distasteful when it is exposed. We are blessed to have a rich heritage, "known and unknown!" How wonderful this response from you is to me.