The Souls of the Faithful Departed
I wanted to start in the morning, but it’s 10:30 pm. Didn’t make it again.
November 2 is a strange day. The Catholics commemorate “all of the faithful departed.” That used to be called “All Souls Day.” All Souls really makes more sense. Much more inclusive than merely the “faithful departed.”
There are many souls I might choose to remember today. My grandparents, my parents, my sister, some friends, a lot of cats. I can only think of one of those who might fall into the realm of the “faithful departed” and that would be my maternal grandmother. Chet went to church really regularly and seemed to have a great deal more faith than any of the rest of the family, in spite of all the curve balls life threw at her. She fit the grey light of November really well. Lost her husband at an early age, lost her health caring for her younger sisters, lost one of her grand-daughters to cancer at a young age as well, but she kept on believing that there was a reason, a greater good for all this. She was five feet tall and skinny. She passed in 1980.
Chippy, my maternal grandfather was a non-believer, at least in the Catholic stuff. He believed in teaching history, coaching basketball and track and field, going fishing, and gardening. He lived at the Jersey shore, was a very funny man, and seemed to have loved every minute of his life. He was the light of Chet’s doctrinaire belief. And he passed on so young, from a blood clot. (Ya Blood Clot, stealing away such a fine man too soon!) He passed in 1957.
My paternal grandparents were the true believers. They believed thoroughly and totally in the greater good provided by a higher power. And they had even less reason than the maternals to do so. They grew up Jewish in Europe, emigrated to the USA during World War I and gave up being Jewish. The family that stayed in Europe and did not give up being Jewish DIED in the holocaust. More souls to remember, souls that I never met.
Suze taught sewing and knitting and cooking and opera. David taught gardening (like Chippy), and music, music, music, all of the classical vein. They taught about unconditional love and about the beauty of writing letters and the right-life of rolling with what fate gives you, but always looking up, always moving on. Except for David. . .
They died in 1963: she in February, and he in September, of a broken heart. He taught that love can be all that there is and that some unions are made in heaven and cannot survive separation. Suze was five feet tall and round. She was born November 15, 1893.
My father, Mark, was a bridge burner. He did not survive surviving the holocaust. He carried survivors’ guilt and personal fear with him for his whole life after that. Believed in nothing. Except that you always burn a bridge when life gets too close. Except that nothing is worth getting connected to. And life will deal you a bad hand, not matter what you do, or how hard you work, or how good you are. He did not believe in shedding tears over anything. I’ve shed thousands for him. He died on May 18, 1986.
My mother, Ruth, was a scientist, when women did not do that. She studied genetics and endocrinology, and worked very briefly on the Manhattan Project. But she gave it up to marry my father. I never figured that out. Raised my sister and I as Catholics, even though she claimed she really didn’t believe in any of it. Not one of the faithful departed. Looking back, I never really knew her. She was alcoholic – all of my youth and young adulthood, I believed it was normal for a person to carry a bottle of scotch around in their pocketbook. She taught me to pay cribbage and solitaire. She was probably alone all of her life after she connected with my father. She was ready to die in 1998, but I rescued her and she spent four years slowly wearing her way down to transition. She passed on October 29, 2002.
My sister, Susan, was the most complex of all. I spent my youth hating that she had intruded into the family where for five years I was the only child. By the time she was a teenager, I was in love with her. She was fiery and feisty and opinionated and spoiled rotten. She was beautiful, and cunning and manipulative. But she was also an artist, and all she ever wanted to do in her life was get out of it. In her late teens, she ignored an angry, jagged, black mole on her shoulder and five years later died from melanoma. What a joy that was for her, in spite of how horrible the disease. The year she spent dying was the best year of her life. She was born to play Mimi, and did so with grace and glory. She left us quietly, alone on July 22, 1979.
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There are no faithful departed here. The idea of commemorating the faithful departed would leave all of these, my beloveds, in the dust, unremembered. They all had dark lives, suitable for a November remembrance. I could write a novel to detail their stories. It would be a little bit depressing, but everything about November is. But it would also be uplifting, because in each little way, their achieved some great goal, passed some extreme test, taught some great lesson. They all helped make me who I am, and I’m grateful. I was born, thanks to all of them, not in November, but on May 16, 1949.