A Letter To Grandma – Dia De Las Muertos

Having risen from sleep, we fall down before thee, O Blessed One, and sing to thee, O Mighty One – The Orthodox Russian Prayer Book

Photo of Grandma Helen right before she was married to Cal Davis who was headed off to war the next day.

Photo of Grandma Helen right before she was married to Cal Davis who was headed off to war the next day.

Dear Grandmother.

I woke thinking of you. And I let the tears come that always come when I let it in— that I cannot call you right now. You always answered the phone in the morning.

Isaiah and I lit the candle and said our prayers – using the Orthodox Prayer Book and then I remembered I had your Russian/English Orthodox Prayer book – sitting on my bedside stand with my Grandfather’s Swedish Bible from my mom’s side. These two books reminding me that less than 110 or so years ago my family still lived on native soil in Russia and Sweden. I picked up the little white book with the gold cross and opened it, and I found this morning that I had said the same prayers that you and your mother said. The book, previously thought of as a family relic, now seems to be relevant and alive.

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Little books on my nightstand, the white one is the Orthodox Prayer Book and the Brown one at the bottom is my Grandather's Swedish Bible

…The Comforter, The Spirit of Truth, Who art everywhere and fillest all things,

The Treasury of Blessings, and the Giver of Life,  come and abide in us…

Russian - English Prayer Book belonging to my Grandmother, given to her by her own Mother, Mary.

Russian/English Orhtodox Prayer Book given to my Grandmother from her Mother Mary

I felt relieved somehow seeing those words– connected to you and her, my great Grandmother, Mrs. Mary Yarosh. To my surprise I also found the Holy Card for her death July 15 1891-January 26, 1966. I also found the record of your vaccination when you were five, as well as an old recipe card for a dinner your sister Anne must have told you about over the phone. I touched it, as if I was touching somewhere your hand last touched. As if the DNA there on the recipe card would rub off on me. Then I put on your shawl, always the turquoise hand woven one Uncle Geoff gave you. Since I have never washed it, I know your shoulders and the side of your neck are still in those particles. I pretend I can smell your White Linen perfume still, and once in a while, back when I first got it, I could find one fine silver hair which was yours.

I try not to dwell on the times I didn’t get with you – and focus on the ones I did get, which in retrospect are among my fondest memories as a child, and are too countless to remember. Forgive me, for when I was older, not coming enough. I don’t know what I was thinking letting months go by. Seems a strange passage for a human between 14 and 34. 20 years of so of not really “getting” it. Forgive me. Even now, so busy am I with life, I have not gone to see my Father in his new home. After finishing this letter to you – I shall call him and make a date. Ok?

O God be Merciful to me a sinner, Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, by the prayers of Thy most pure Mother, Theotokos, and all the Saints, Have Mercy on us.

It is amazing feeling like now that I am growing up I can know you still – that my love and understanding of who you are continues to unfold even though you are not here with me. I wish you were. You told me you were complete, when I told you we wanted you to live. You could have lived. I know that. I think everyone knows that, but you said you were done and wanted to go and be with Grandpa. I was so glad so many of us could be with you as you made your transition, what amazing light filled/dark filled days those were. Bittersweet. Right before the end, you had all of us get dressed in white, asked me for your lipstick and and we took a family photo.

You had barely spoken for days. You look like an angel in those photos. You asked me to take on the family tradition of photos – I said yes. But I confess. I have not.

Photo of Grandma Helen right before she was married to Cal Davis who was headed off to war the next day.

Letting you and Grandma Eden go, is so far, the hardest thing in my life. Since I go to the Orthodox Church now, I finally understand how you got how you were. The sacredness, and the expansiveness. How I wish I had asked you more questions. When I am in church, I feel I am with you – and my family. I feel my roots and I have  a sense of understanding about the nature of my own soul as it relates to my blood line. Who knew I would find mother church, after you left. How I wish I could take you to Vespers tonight, I think how happy you would be – even though you left and went to the Protestant Church, I know your heart remained with the church “back home” in Lopez, Pensylvannia – where the church Grandfather Dimitri helped to build, still stands, 100 years later. The icon that was in your room when you died, is mine now and sits on one of my many altars.

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Grandma's Icon

There is also a flower in the book – dried and preserved though I cannot tell what kind. And it is inscribed from your mother, to you and grandpa and dad and uncle. That I get to see Grandmother Mary’s handwriting and know she touched the page, feels a blessing.  I believe in particles – in essences – in momentary flahses of light and consciousness that link us to the past – and the present.

Do you remember that I used to “smell” your scent before you were going to call me? I would tell my mother when I was just 4 or 5, that I could smell you and that you were going to call.  Then I would get on the bus or in the car with my mom and come from Sonoma to Marin to see you. Our lunches were my favoritest, because you let me order whatever I wanted. You would order mostly apple pie alamode and black coffee no matter what time of day it was. Then we would go shopping and you would buy me dresses, then we would visit friends and then we would go to the grocery, and you would let me pick out whatever I wanted to eat to bring home, even if I was only with you for a day. Grandpa would be waiting for us – and always happy to see me. And you.

You taught me so many things, that are such a part of me that I cannot distinguish them, but suddenly it will occur to me, aha. I got that from her. One is my steady countenance and energy – and of course I look more like you all the time. You had this little soft swell where your hand and wrist connected which began the flesh of your arm – it was so round and soft and I would press on it with my finger underneath your silver bangles. The ones you gave me over lunch about 2 years before you died. Guess what?  I have the little soft curve, and I recognized it yesterday as the same as yours.  How amazing is it that we are still together through your blood being in my body? Incredible. And if what the Bible says is true, I shall be with you again someday. I miss you terribly.  I often look at the bangle your brother made you – and marvel that it is now on my wrist. It has a slight dent in it, you told me that happened when you fell down one time. That dent is evidence of your presence. I just looked at it. Your weight once pressed there. I cannot imagine you falling – though I have a record of that fall chinkling on my wrist every day.

Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven, Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

My husband just brought coffee to my writing table. The sun is coming up and the Raven’s are announcing the day. A big spider crawls across the floor, but I am too busy writing to you to care. I have to go to the gallery today, Electric Rose, and I am so glad you got to see so many of my galleries, and my work happen in the world. You were so proud of me, sending my work “back home” to the family. Thank you. Here is a recent painting I wish I could show you.

Presence of Peace by Shiloh Sophia McCloud ©2009 www.shilohsophia.com

Presence of Peace by Shiloh Sophia McCloud

Thank you.

I think the thing, that struck me the most about you – both when you were alive and now, is your heart, and how you thought of others. You were Christian, but not like any other Christians I know. You brought me to church, but didn’t do any of the traditional “Grandma tries to save wayward child from evil world” stuff. You loved unconditionally – truly – and it was not something I experienced anywhere else in the way you did it. It felt, magical. As I grew in Christ, and later pressed you to tell me what you thought about how folks who were not Christians were saved and on and on – your answers were unlike any other Christian. You were SO LOVING. SO EXPANSIVE. SO NON-JUDGING and so, unconcerned really with how it would all turn out – you had a being-ness of trust about you – and you never ceased to do good for others. Those who know you would say, you were the best woman they ever knew. How you shined Grandma Davis! You are a glowing light! Now that I go to the Orthodox Church, I understand more of that glow.

In one of the most patriarchal conservative churches in the world – I have found folks who – like you – consider LOVE to the most important thing, and do not judge other Christians. Their worldview is so expansive and precious and intelligent, I finally have a glimpse into how you got how you are. Wow. That is all I can say. Wow. You passed particles of that understanding onto me, thank you – and now I worship with others who also consider love, and beauty, in a similar way I do, which I learned from you. They also, love the Mother. And, truth be told I cannot worship God where they do not recognize the Mother of God.


Our Lady with the Red thread at the Annunciation

The little altars and rituals you brought to me, came from there. Like you, I do not believe all of it, or take all of it on – but still, I go to be with God. I understand why you left now, and know you will understand why I am planning to stay. I will be baptized likely, by Spring, hopefully when the first daffodils rise. I know you will be there. I love how the church has these prayer cards – one side for the living and one side for the dead. Their relationship with those gone before, is so different than anything I have seen – and now I know why you planned to meet Grandpa so soon.

I haven’t made one yet, but when I do, your name will once again be said in church but those who hold the 2000 year ceremony that our ancestors practiced.

I miss you when I see the first daffodil of spring because you always always  called me on the day of the first daffodil. You also always sent cards for every occasion, and wrote me letters. Including Hallloween – which is in a  few days – I would always get the card a few days before – with a note – and I remember thinking how no one else I knew sent Halloween cards – sometimes there would be a fall leaf, or candy. I always remember you through every Holy Day – Holiday. And especially during the time of preparing for Dia De Las Muertos, when I shall make food and light candles and sing songs to honor you.

And now there is no card from you through the mail. (Sigh) I miss you.

Wait a minute….as I have been writing this journal entry I have wondered what the reason is – am I just being close to you through writing? Or do you have a message this Halloween as you always did?

I see now.

I did get a card – you sent me your Mother’s Holy card from her death in this little book. I had never seen the card before – but today – you sent it to me for All Hallows, All Saints, Dia De Las Muertas – just a few days before. Right on schedule!

I had a dream shortly after you died, I was looking everywhere for you – calling and yelling for you desperately – GRANDMA GRANDMA GRANDMA. Then you said, from a doorway where you casually stood – WHAT? (you didn’t approve of yelling).

I looked to see you – relieved. You said:

“I am right here. I am always right here.”

October 28, 2009