By Becky A. Benson.
When the last remaining breezes of the tepid summer air turn unabashedly crisp and begin to fill with the recognizable scent of colorful leaves bidding their trees adieux we know that Autumn is on its way. These things, and so many others during this season bring a great sense of nostalgia to my heart and mind. The warm pleasures of draping yourself in layers of sweaters and scarves and of taking in the aroma of baked apples and pumpkin-everything blankets us in comfort. A literal season of change is underway.
In the Fall I wax nostalgic more than any other time of year. October is the month in which my youngest daughter, Miss Elliott was born. She too brought many changes into our lives. Our beautiful, blessed being, she was a teacher. My greatest teacher. She taught us what it meant to love unconditionally. She taught us what it meant to persevere. She taught us that a life, no matter how short or how small, was valuable, important and beautiful. She also taught us how to say goodbye.
Of course, we never could have known when she was born that she would only be staying with us for such a short while. Just long enough to light beside us, gently flap her delicate wings, and send the reverberations of love into our hearts to guide our lives. A child was born, and a mere three years later, she was gone. Tay-Sachs disease was a cruel reality. A neurological monster we didn’t know was lurking in our genes. One who swooped in and eventually stole not only her mental functioning, physical functioning, hearing, eyesight, even her ability to swallow and breathe, but it also stole her life, as it does with every affected child. To date, there is no treatment or cure. And unfortunately it is always fatal.
Soon the internationally-celebrated Mexican holiday known as Dia De Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead will be upon us. Day of the Dead is actually a three day long holiday that is celebrated by the gathering of family and friends who come together to pray for and remember loved ones who have died. It happens to align time wise, with other typically known holidays celebrated across the world including All Hallows’ Eve and All Saints Day.
Through cultural or religious misconception and misappropriation these holidays and traditions are often regarded as scary, morbid, or even mournful. This is not, in any way the intent or purpose of these celebrations. During Dia de los Muertos participants honor their deceased loved ones by dressing up with the images of decorated “sugar” skulls, using flowers, marigolds in particular traditionally, for decoration, and by bringing the deceased’s favorite foods and beverages to their resting place and leaving them with the possessions they treasured while here on earth.
In the Mexican culture, November 1st. is “el Dia de los innnocentes,” (Day of the Children) a day reserved to remember children and infants. Special altars are erected as an offering of enticement to the visiting angelitos, (souls of the deceased children) for their time here.
Coincidentally, in the United States, we know this time of year to be when the Monarch butterflies migrate south for the winter. Where they go is to Mexico. They are accumulating right now in massive groups, huddling together, and resting their tired wings after their epic three-thousand mile journey from The North into their new warmer climate. Mexicans traditionally view the return of the butterflies this one time every year as the souls of the deceased children returning to earth to comfort their grieving families.
I can think of nothing more beautiful that than to witness a fleeting swarm of millions of butterflies cascading over trees and landscapes, and enveloping the world around them. Dotting the air as they dance through the sky. A rhythmic undulating being unto itself made up of tiny individual specimens. To be surrounded by the souls of a million perfectly pure children, what could be more spiritual?
I can only hope that my Miss Elliott is happily free and dancing amongst them while they enchant us in their brief duration.
Becky A. Benson, mother of two, is a writer and public speaker who lives with her family near Seattle, WA. She is an active member of the National Tay-Sachs & Allied Diseases Association (NTSAD), and holds a degree in psychology. She is the author of “Three Short Years: Life Lessons in the Death of My Child.”