Bittersweet All Saint's Day

Some years, as All Saint’s Day approaches, I barely notice its entry, being overwhelmed by the loud drama of Halloween. This year, though, I can think of nothing else, except the sad remembrance of dear ones lost this year. Three people I cared for passed in the last month, and my own mother has changed so dramatically this year that in a sense, who she once was has passed too. Now I call my father and talk to him about how his cats are doing and what hour he is going to bed. My mother doesn’t know how to answer a phone anymore. 

Krista and Abhay at ThanksgivingThis year I turned 50, like many of my friends born in the ’68 era. My friend and fellow bookgroup all-star Krista Gullickson came within inches of 50, but passed on September 27th, after a long, ethereal conversation with cancer. Like a wandering magi, she travelled far in search of a cure, coming at last to an resting place in foreign land. The old playful, flirty Krista, from some ten years ago, gradually passed away and became the deeply introspective, powerfully aware new Krista, who took each moment as an existential gift. She peeled off the unnecessary clutter of life, until nothing was left except drink bone broth, sleep and think. Then just sleep. On All Saint’s day, I’ll remember how she danced to “Punjabi #1” in her living room in the midst of pakoras and mango lassis.

Another friend, Kathleen Callahan, passed suddenly in October. In April I saw her talking in my living room, explaining in her lively, jocular way that she was having some screens for cancer. Two weeks ago, I heard with shock that she was in hospice and I went to visit. At first, when I entered her bedroom, I didn’t understand that the person I was looking at was Kathleen, but it seemed that it must be her, as there was no one else in the room. How to explain such a vivacious person in life had changed into a tiny ghost two days from death. The real Kathleen had already passed away by the time I came to visit. On All Saint’s day, I’ll remember how I was sitting at a company party years ago, feeling lonely and out-of-place, when a sparkling, potty-mouthed woman came up next to me and started telling bawdy stories like we’d known each other forever. When my husband and I left the party, I thought, “I hope I see her again.”

The third person who passed last month is Dale Reed, the mother of my friend Elisabeth Reed. Though I only knew Dale from Thanksgiving visits, she was one of the “mothers of my friends” who remind me so much of my own mother, that I found it comforting to be around her. When one lives far away from their mother, as I do, one grows to appreciate the occasional presence of surrogate mother figures. Some women in their seventies, who have grey hair, a tender look and a maternal bearing, instantly call to mind “mother” for me. Dale was one such woman. As I watch my friend grieve for her mother, I see the future for me. It’s coming. On All Saint’s Day, I’ll think of Dale at our bookgroup last fall, sitting next to her husband of fifty years, reaching over to touch his hand as if he were still 25. 

For today, I am grateful to be alive and to have young children who scare away sadness as soon as it comes in the door. Thinking of you dear friends, and lighting a candle for you on November 1.