A few weeks ago, our girls came home from school with a note from their Spanish teacher. In honor of Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, the teacher asked students to bring in photos of relatives who have passed away. The teacher planned to celebrate the Mexican holiday by commemorating the lives of loved ones who have died.
There was just one problem. Our daughters are young (just 3 and 5 years old) and haven’t yet experienced the death of someone they know. We are fortunate that both sets of their grandparents are not only alive and well, but a mere 35 minute drive away. Our girls are loved and cherished by two great-grandfathers and three great-grandmothers, to boot.
So, I emailed the teacher. I wanted our girls to participate in the celebration but wasn’t sure how they would be able to. The teacher suggested that my husband and I think about someone who is deceased whom we had a close relationship with. We could show a photograph of this person to our children and share a special memory about him or her.
When sifting through my childhood photos I come across a photo of my grandfather with my mom, my siblings and myself. In the photo, we are licking ice cream cones in front of an old U.S. Mail wagon. My grandfather is wearing his beloved cowboy hat, personalized with dozens of circus pins. In an instant, the memory of visiting the Circus World Museum in Baraboo comes flooding back.
My grandfather, or “Papa” as we grandkids called him, was a big-time circus enthusiast. He loved clowns and horses. In July, when the circus train came to Milwaukee, he would take us down to the railroad tracks in the Third Ward to watch the crew unload the brightly painted wagons. Later, we would sit at the lakefront and have a front row seat of the horses practicing for the Great Circus Parade.
On the day of the actual parade, rain or shine, Papa would arrive several hours ahead of time to stake his claim on the top row of the bleachers set up outside of the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts. He was always wearing his cowboy hat, patiently waiting for the appearance of his favorite clown. As soon as plaid-clad Ernest Borgnine was in sight, Papa would holler, “Hey, Ernie!,” as if he were greeting an old friend.
I gave our oldest daughter the photo of Papa with his grandchildren in Baraboo and told her about his cowboy hat. I explained that he was married to her great grandma “GG," and was the father of her Grammy. I told her about the times Papa and GG took me and her aunt and uncles to watch The Great Circus Parade, just as we had taken her to see the parade in the summer of 2009.
My husband, Matt, has fond memories of outings with his grandparents as well. They lived in Park Ridge, IL and enjoyed taking their grandchildren to the movie theater. One vivid memory Matt has with his grandmother was a trip into downtown Chicago. Even though his grandparents lived close by, they didn’t travel into the Windy City often.
It felt like a special day when they arrived amongst the crowds at The Shedd Aquarium. They watched the orchestrated dolphin show and ate lunch. Matt remembers eating crackers that were shaped like dolphins and picking out a souvenir from the gift shop.
Matt shared this memory with our youngest daughter and gave her a photograph of his Grandpa and Grandma Glafcke to take to school.
Although our girls never met Papa or great grandma Glafcke, they do know their faces and have at least one story about how they touched their parents’ lives.
What do you do to remember those dear to you who have died?