It's weird coming from an immigrant family. I know personally as far back as my great grandparents, but they're the ones who came from Ireland and Wales and Cuba and that's where the trail ends. Like, even Ancestry.com can't get more info than that, except for a few random names that may or may not be connected.* All the names got changed.
But this year, my grandpa died, and last week a friend of mine died, and I've been thinking about heritage and remembering people what with Halloween coming up and the whole Day of the Dead visit-your-ancestors thing just around the corner. We don't have any traditions like that in my family, because none of them are buried: they're all cremated, and who knows where the urns have wound up these days.
I can still remember them, though. And my journal is a good place to do that. Tomorrow is Ancestor Appreciation Day, and I think I'm going to make a page in my notebook where I just write everything I can remember about everyone who has passed before me. I'll post a picture (probably on IG**, maybe here) when I'm done, if it comes out nice, but even if it's ugly and messy and makes me cry, it's a thing. It's a moment when I choose to remember so that what they were to me doesn't get lost in the shuffle of time.
Because here's the thing: deaths in the family suck ass. All I ever want is to move on, to not have to think about that ache and the loss, and to get back to living my life. But then months pass and you get close to the first birthday of the recently dead where they're not there anymore to call, and then it's time to remember. Both this year's deaths share a birthday on Ancestor Appreciation Day and if that's not a sign, I don't know what is. And I promised myself I'd start noticing the signs the Universe is sending me.
Some ideas for this sort of thing:
- You can do like PageFlutter did and do a single-person rememberance list, where you just write what you remember most about them. She also colored a Sugar Skull, but I'm not Mexican and I've never lived in Mexico so that seems...inappropriate for me to do. You make your own choice!
- You can narrate your favorite memories of that person, like you're writing a biography or autobiography.
- You can do a family tree with all the info you have.***
- You can stick in pictures of the people who have died, and make it like a memory page.
- You can research your heritage, if not the people themselves: where did your ancestors come from, and what was life like the last time they were there?
- You can record family legends, as they're told, and not worry about how true or provable they are.
- Record your favorite family recipes and tell the story of how you learned them, or what your earliest memory of that recipe was.
- You can write down as much of the stuff that future family genealogists might need to know as you can think of, so that their job is easier than yours when they hit an age where they want to know this stuff!
- You can process through complicated memories and emotions about those people, or record the stuff you DO want to remember and not the stuff you don't.
- Record what you got from your ancestors, physically, culturally, spiritually.
- Talk about people who are like family, but who wouldn't show up on a family tree and therefore might get lost in time if you don't say something, so they'll be remembered, too.
- You could even start a whole project, a folder full of all of this that you can pass down to future generations so none of it gets lost.
Basically, journaling is usually all about ourselves, right? It's our thoughts, our moments, our day to day lives. I like the idea of having a day where it reminds me to pull back and think about what came before. They're the start of the narrative that makes us who we are, right?
What would you do in your journal for Ancestor Appreciation Day?
*My old room mate didn't believe me that genealogy is super hard in our family on both sides. He'd gotten one of those free first month things on Ancestry and traced his family back to France and England in the 1100s in like four days. I gave him my info and he hit exactly the same wall because it's like my family only existed maybe five generations, despite being Catholic on both sides and making lots of babies all over. Seriously, one grandfather was the youngest of eleven and had fourteen of his own kids. It's bonkers.
**www.instagram.com/pirategirljack, if you're looking for me.
***Our family is so big and so full of remarriages that it's super hard to do hand-drawn family trees, but one day I'll figure out a system for big families!