Halloween is my daughter's birthday, and on Tuesday I started my day with a phone call to serenade her as well as share some gratitude for our relationship. On that call we talked a bit about "Grammy". We often find ourselves talking about my mother who has been gone now for 12 years. She was a complicated person who struggled with addiction and mental illness for many years. Despite her efforts, she was not able to be the consistent, loving, generous person that I needed or wanted in a mom. And yet, my daughter and I often talk about her and the wisdom she gave us for living our days.
My mom and I had a difficult relationship for many years, and I can gratefully say that we were reconciled in the last 6-7 years of her life, particularly as she diminished due to Alzheimer's. And despite her childhood traumas, some of which she passed on to her own kids, I am grateful to be imbued with her commitment to healing and play, curiosity and faith.
Sadly, we were not reconciled when I became a mother. My prayer then was to not repeat my mother's mistakes. I was angry and hurt by what I'd experienced as a child. And yet, I kept seeking my own healing so there might be a different future for my kids, and me. I can't say how successful I've been, but I can say the commitment to stay engaged, to listen to the places of pain I've had a part in, to offer apologies and acknowledgement when needed, and to just be present (even at this distance) - that these actions have made it possible for my kids and I to have the kind of relationships that my mom and I never had.
We are all really grateful that my mom kept trying even when it was really hard. I think this was true for her mother as well, my grandmother. She had her own struggles with mental illness and eventually diminished with Alzheimer's, just like her 4 sisters. We suspect that their "senile" mother was also afflicted with that disease. By having this view into their lives, and acknowledging their struggles, we have a chance to honor these Saints, to respect their lives and the limitations in which they lived, and to keep the best part of their DNA - the will to heal, the will to thrive.
So, how do we do that, you might be asking?
One very concrete way is by making pie. Lemon Merengue Pie to be specific. My mom, and her mom, and her mom were great bakers! Whether Thanksgiving or Christmas, a summer visit to "camp" or and Easter Sunday feast, there was always an assortment of pies. Coconut custard and chocolate cream, apple and mince, pumpkin and strawberry rhubarb. But the crowning glory was always lemon merengue! And as far as I know, there was always a competition between my grandmother and her daughter about whose pie was better. Stiffer peaks., softer crust. perfectly set filling, merengue golden brown to perfection.
In my childhood I saw the competition between my mother and her mother about "the pie". It wasn't always fun or playful, and a fun family gathering often became tense and fraught with the generational struggles over primacy and worth. On more than one occasion I watched my grandmother demean her daughter over a merengue that was less than perfect. They never got to the delight that my daughter and I share, and I mourn for them even as I celebrate what was good between them.
At some point I joined the Game of Pies. I learned how to make the crust perfectly flaky like my grandmothers, the filling tart and sweet like my mom, and the merengue whipped and browned to perfection. I soon learned that the joy was in making it, in sharing it, in celebrating the memories around it, and not competing for some imagined first place ribbon.
Honoring the Saints was about gratitude and love.
When my daughter started making her own version of this magical pie, I had the chance to consciously do something different, hopefully better. My choice was to celebrate her memories of Grammy's pie, to laugh with her when the crust fell apart, or the merengue got burned. We took the opportunity to both honor the Saints (my mother and grandmother) and make a new way where joy and celebration, healing and play are always more important than whose pie is the best.
I share all of this as I remember these saints on All Saints Day. Those whom we have lost often leave us with gifts that transcend the grandiose and invite us to remember the delight of making pies, or taking a walk, or some other small thing that is the home of joy regardless of what challenges lived alongside these gems. I've come to relish the opportunities to remember the facets of my mom that were too often hidden behind her pain - her intellect, her persistence, her delight in making things for those whom she loved, her care for strangers, and, of course, her pie!
May this missive invite you into a moment where you can remember your saints and find the gems, the facets where delight and joy shown forth into your life as a gift of love.
Blessings on All Saints Day and have some pie if you can.