Friday, October 06, 2006

Walhydra’s “Dumb Supper”: or, “Nothing is lost in spirit”

Walhydra realizes that this has been a year of meeting death personally for hubby Jim and herself.

The challenges began just before Candlemas (aka “Imbolc”). Their dear, grand old friend Floyd (aka “Mother”, aka “Watashi Mua, Empress of the Known Universe”) died moments before they reached the door of the family who were hosting him in hospice care.

Surprising herself, Walhydra helped lawyer John prepare Floyd’s body without flinching. Then, joined by an amazing array of straight- and counter-culture acquaintances, they shared a night-long wake out of Tennessee Williams (one of the more comic pieces).

At one point, they stood round an impromptu banquet of Publix food trays and dips in plastic tubs, toasting Floyd with fine champagne in styrofoam cups—half expecting him to stalking regally from the bedroom at any moment to chastise them all for not using crystal flutes.

The next challenge came on St. Patrick’s Day, when Jim’s father James finally tired of rounds of chemotherapy and hospitalization and died in his own home.

Six years ago, Walhydra had watched father and son, two self-made survivors, hug each other with silent tears at the funeral of Jim’s mother. They had not spoken in ten years. During these final years, though, they decided to stop being Southern Baptist at each other (Jim claims to be in recovery) and learned to enjoy holiday visits together.

Since her hubby rarely verbalizes emotions, Walhydra has had to guess at the depth and nature of Jim’s private grief. She takes comfort, though, in the awareness that these two men came finally to like each other. She is secretly amused at how like each other they are. (Don’t tell Jim that.)

Finally, as Walhydra’s faithful readers know, in mid-September, Miso the Cat, affectionate mentor and spiritual guide for over fifteen years, died quickly and quietly at the nice old age of 80+ (16 in human years).

Walhydra has puzzled over the after-effects of this latest death. She remembers, halfway through Floyd’s wake, wandering back to sit alone with his body, and finally being able to sob aloud when she realized, “I can’t talk with this silly genius anymore!” For weeks she had flashes of revisiting that awareness, as did hubby Jim. She supposes Jim may have similar moments of missing his lost and reconciled father.

But what makes missing much more poignant? Walhydra suspects that, in part, it’s because Miso was home. If she was home, he was there—usually whining for more dessert. He followed them from room to room and crowded their feet at night. He was a point of shared affection for Walhydra and hubby, even during their own most difficult years.

Walhydra feels that there is now a spiritual absence in the household.

So, what does all of this have to do with food?

Walhydra knows that the old agricultural calendar of Celtic Europe included three harvests. The first, of barley or grain, was in early August, the second, of grapes, at Autumn Equinox. The final harvest, of fruit and nuts, came right at the cusp of Winter, around October 31st. But this was also when people believed the veil between the living and the dead was the thinnest, when those whom Death had harvested could return to share a meal with their loved ones.

In Gaelic, the festival was called Samhain, “Summer’s End." It was Christianized as All Hallows Eve (Hallowe’en), preface to All Saints Day.

Folk gathered for an end-of-season feast to which they believed they could invite the dear departed by setting out extra places of food and wine. The dead could speak through the stories, jokes and laments their survivors told about them. They called it a “Dumb Supper.”

Now, as Walhydra wrote in her first blog post, she doesn’t know if there’s life after death. Her rational mind—which she knows is a fictional construct of her organism’s brain, handy for organizing information—tells her that, once the body dies, the construct of “individual identity” ceases to exist. So who—or what—would come back to visit?

But Walhydra is still—at least on her better days—a human being. She remembers. Her memories have real effect in the present in terms of feeling, emotion, thought, action. So she figures whenever she remembers someone, that person is actually there.

Her hero, Jesus, said that would be true whenever his friends ate and drank together. Certainly Mother Floyd had not yet left the building when his admirers shared the banquet from Publix. And, when Walhydra and Jim first hosted a Dumb Supper for the local Quaker Meeting, they met all sorts of people who had “crossed over” into death, in the loving tales of their living guests.

Hubby Jim says he’s planning a Dumb Supper for some of Floyd’s friends, probably the weekend before Samhain. Walhydra is glad—though it promises to hit closer to home than in previous years.

She doesn’t know yet, but she’ll probably put out a dish of Miso’s favorite cat food. Or, better yet, cheese!

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