When my Daddy's brother, my beloved Uncle Francis, passed away, my Uncle Paul, my Cousin Keith and I flew to New York to sort through and clean out his Manhattan apartment. It was an overwhelming yet fascinating ordeal, sorting through the relics of a loved one's life, made even more surreal by Uncle Francis' almost Collyer Brothers-like hording tendencies.
Uncle Francis was in his early 80s when he died, and had lived alone in the same apartment for more than 30 years. He was a single man, gay (though no one in the family every spoke of this), a voice and piano teacher, an artist and a lover of beautiful things. Apparently, he threw almost nothing away. His "collections" ranged from treasure to trash, all crammed together in a one bedroom apartment with seemingly no order. We'd find a box filled with precious old family photos next to a box filled with old butter tubs he'd carefully washed and saved. One drawer held about a hundred old Chinese takeout menus alongside...a life insurance policy!
Cleaning out this apartment was a wonderful adventure. We found every letter he'd ever received from all of his loved ones neatly arranged in chronological order in boxes. I not only found every little note I'd ever sent him throughout my childhood, but also long letters from his mother, my Grandma, who had died when I was only 3. I actually found a letter from her to Uncle Francis announcing my birth! It was SO dear.
Truly, I could spend this entire post describing everything we found (an entire dresser filled with tea towels!), but I will save that for another time. The reason I'm telling you this long story is because of one particular collection we found. In his kitchen cabinets we found at least 40 tea cups and saucers, and none of them matched. Each cup and saucer set was a different china pattern.
Keith and Uncle Paul were baffled, but I knew exactly why this was. One of Uncle Francis' "things" was tea. He was a tea connoisseur. He drank gallons of it all day every day. He was extremely particular about the whole tea experience - the pot had to be heated to the right temperature, the tea had to be steeped exactly 3 minutes. During the years of my early acting career, I had stayed with Uncle Francis a couple of times while auditioning for various shows in New York, and he had been very happy to share his tea obsession with me. And it was during our tea time that he explained the tea cups to me.
Every time one of his loved ones died, he purchased a special tea cup and saucer in their memory. He was very careful to choose a pattern that particularly reminded him of the person. And then every time he had a cup of tea in someone's "memorial tea cup" he thought of them. It was a beautiful, simple and extremely personal memorial. I remember clearly drinking out of "Aunt Mattie" and "Aunt Verna".
Unfortunately, when Uncle Francis died, no one knew who each of the cups memorialized! And probably, we wouldn't have known half of the people he was remembering anyway. I managed to bring a few of these precious cups and saucers home with me, and have them displayed in my house...
I'm pretty sure that the pretty floral cup on the right was Grandma, and the cup with the exotic fuchsia blossom was Aunt Verna. And the cup and saucer in the front, the simple bone china with the gold rim, is the cup and saucer I purchased in honor of Uncle Francis himself. I think he would be pleased.
Over the years, I've searched for a way to memorialize my loved ones who have passed on, but I have yet to find the perfect thing. I think a charm bracelet would be nice, but am daunted by the price of gold. I want the memorial to be just right, and I know it never could be. I find myself wishing that my culture provided me with the perfect memorial.
Those of you who are constant readers know that earlier this year, Gus, one of Jude's friends from school and Cub Scouts, died of cancer. He was 10 years old. His parents, both of whom I consider a friend, have shown tremendous grace and strength over these last months, setting the perfect example of how to mourn the loss of a child. They have managed to deal with their intense personal grief and loss while allowing the community around them to join their grieving process. The loss of a child is something that is just so wrong, so unnatural, that it's hard for us to process, let alone mourn in a fulfilling way. But Cecilia and Paul have generously allowed us all to share in their grief.
Cecilia and her family are Mexican-American, and it's the Mexican tradition to honor the dead every year on the Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead, traditionally celebrated on November 1st and 2nd, All Saints Day and All Souls Day. And so this year, they kindly invited the community of Gus' school to a party at their house. Paul built an altar in Gus' memory and Cecilia cooked up a Mexican feast. We were all asked to bring a small traditional offering for the altar - sugar skulls, candles, marigolds, candy. The turn out was huge, and the celebration was beautiful.
The party was on October 28th, a Sunday, to make it easier for people. But then, on Halloween and through All Saints Day and All Souls Day, they moved the altar to the front of their house.
For many years, their family had hosted a haunted house every Halloween, but because of Gus' death, they have chosen not to have it any more. When trick or treaters came to their house, they found the following note...
The outpouring of love from the neighborhood was amazing. Look at all of Gus' candy!
That night, Cecilia sat in the darkened room just off the driveway, tears streaming down her face, sipping red wine and listening to hordes of random trick or treaters stop, read the note and leave a piece of candy for the little boy who was no longer with us. Many people remembered him from previous years, and recognized the mask he wore last year, which they'd hung from the altar. One person left a full bag of candy with this note...
I can't imagine a more perfect memorial for a little boy who was so full of life and fun. And what a beautiful way to allow friends and neighbors to join in.
Do you have a special way you honor those who have died?
Please visit this week's In Memoriam spinners. But be sure to grab your tissues first!
SuziCate at The Water Witch's Daughter - NEW on FRIDAY
Next week on The Spin Cycle...
In solidarity with those effected by Superstorm Sandy this past week, let's talk about disasters this week.
Fire, flood, famine, tornados, hurricanes, earthquakes! How has disaster struck you and your family?
Or maybe your disaster is not a natural disaster, but just a plain old disaster? Did you have a car wreck? A ski accident? Did the dog eat the Thanksgiving turkey?
Write it. Post it. Share it. I'll link it.
If you'd like me to add you to my weekly Spin Cycle reminder email (which, btw, I'm getting much better about sending out in a timely manner) let me know.
And if you have any questions, click the Spin Cycle tab up top.
Share your spin!
Highlight the code.
Copy to your HTML.
Et voila! Linked!