I like question and answer formats. It helps me focus, stops me from rambling. I’m thinking that Wednesdays and Saturdays will often be q&a days. Here’s another q&a from Glow in the Woods, with a selection of questions about beliefs and rituals and connections to that life beyond life, the unknown afterward.

1. Do you believe that you can communicate with people in the afterlife or they with you? Do you believe you can do this with your child?

I’ve never really believed that the dead are capable of reaching back to us and have an influence on our lives. It’s an interesting fantasy but nothing that has a place in the practical world. Of course, nature is full of strange and mysterious things, and no one can fully know what it means to pass from life to death.

The problem here is that I don’t believe in an afterlife. I believe that, when we die, our energy – our essences, our souls, whatever you want to call it – enters back into the natural world, merging with the spiritual energy that always surrounds us anyway. Not only our spirits, but those of animals and birds, of trees and mountains, of rivers and fields. Where there is life, there is energy, and it surrounds us at all times.

It seems a very Shinto way of thinking about the world, and it feels the most right to me. In regards to the question, it means that I don’t believe it’s really possible to communicate with those who have passed on. They have ceased to be conscious people and have become the most simplest form of energy. They merely are. They don’t need to be anything else.

I do talk to Lauren, even though I don’t actually believe that she can respond to me or even hear me. But she lived inside of me, and I remember what she was when she was alive. Her spirit remains with me because it has always been with me. It always will be. But I’m not going to fool myself into thinking that I can reach out and touch her and bring her back to me in even this small way. Her spirit has been released from me, and I can’t lay claim to it. That part of her doesn’t belong to me; only her memory does.

2. Do you believe in ghosts? How has this changed since the loss of your child?

I’ve never really been quite sure how I feel about ghosts. Realism has always won out in those debates I’ve had with myself about residual spiritual energy. Nothing has ever managed to convince me that ghosts are real, that those who have passed over return to haunt the people or places they knew.

I certainly don’t believe in ghosts as depicted in ghost stories. If there are ghosts, they exist as energy, perhaps a type that we don’t fully understand or know about yet. An unconscious energy, an energy without motives or needs or memories. I don’t believe so much in the idea of hauntings. I’m not haunted by my daughter. If she’s with me, it’s because I keep her memory with me. It has nothing to do with any conscious thought on her part.

3. Have your feelings changed about Halloween? How do you respond to Halloween humor and decorations now?

I’ve enjoyed Halloween in the past, and in recent years, I’ve really gotten into the whole costume thing. I probably like it more now than I did as a kid. I’ve never really liked “kitschy” Halloween though. Or “horror” Halloween. I’ve never been that impressed with horror movies or the like. Back when I was in college and interested in neo-paganism, I tried to approach Halloween from a more personal viewpoint, as a spiritual holiday rather than a commercial one. Holidays are much more enjoyable that way. That’s a change that started long ago and is now a much more profound thing.

We did not really celebrate Halloween this year. We carved pumpkins with the family, but that was about it. No costumes, no candy, no parties, no fun. That felt appropriate for this year, but I’m not sure I want to repeat it next year. I don’t want to go all-out, goofball Halloween; I want a Halloween celebrated in a subdued way but still celebrated. I love the atmosphere of this season, the juxtaposition of life and death so close together. I like the symbolism of it all, the changing of the seasons as the world fades and dims into its winter “death.” The wheel of the seasons shows us that life must always end, that it is a natural part of existence. Because life is mourned, it can be celebrated when it’s alive. Even in the graying of the year, even in the midst of winter, the potential for life lies waiting, sleeping. It’s there. It’s always there.

4. Does your religious or cultural background have a day or a holiday where the focus is honoring the dead? How do you use this experience to honor your own child?

My religious background is a bit . . . varied. I was raised Christian. Both of my parents were raised in the Nazarene church, but I attended several different ones as a child, whichever one was closest or we liked best. We stopped attending when I was in middle school. I had liked Sunday school because I like stories, and that’s how I saw Sunday school: a chance to read and analyze stories. Sermon services bored me, but I preferred them over youth classes. The classes had stories, but not the Biblical ones, and they all had morals to them. A lot about not giving into peer pressure and surrendering to God, and the teachers never answered questions, they only asked them. It made me uncomfortable.

I didn’t give up on Christianity entirely until I was about fifteen, when I discovered neo-paganism and Wicca. I had become unsatisfied with Christianity; it would be a long time before I realized that there are different types of Christians, that not all of them have the same values or display them the same way. The philosophy of Wicca – to do as you will without harming others – made sense to me. I studied Wicca through the rest of high school and all through college. I learned how to meditate and center myself, and I developed a better sense of who I was in the world. What has stuck most with me though is the appreciation for the cycle of life. Things keep going round and round, one season follows another, just as it has for time uncountable. By accepting that life came to an end, only to start again in some new way, I learned that all life is precious and should be celebrated.

By the end of college, my religious beliefs had melded together into something both eclectic and wonderful. In a spiritual sense, I was at peace. I was not a hardcore Wiccan, but I incorporated some of the basic tenets into my spirituality. I gave up on the idea of gods altogether, deciding that we draw gods as we need them from the life force that exists in everything, everywhere. When I went to Japan, I developed an interest in Shinto, in which all living things – and some not living, such as rocks and mountains, strictly speaking – have an energy of their own, a spirit. Thus, I’ve brought Shinto into my belief system, and it’s given me some solace.

But are there specific holy days for honoring the dead that I observe? I couldn’t say. From Wicca, I learned a new reverence for Halloween, that day of days when the dead are said to return from the spiritual world. From Japanese culture, I learned of Obon, a week in early August that allows people to remember their ancestors. Neither of them is of particular significance to me. I know too little about Obon. And Halloween, though a fitting night for the dead, is too seasonal for me to consider it as a personal holiday for honoring the dead. Perhaps that will change now.

The greatest day to honor Lauren is the day of her birth. That is her day. It always will be.


5. Do you ever reach outside of your spiritual/religious framework for comfort from other practices/religions?

As you can probably tell from the previous answer, you can guess that the answer is “yes.” It’s been a long time since I had any use for organized religion, and so my beliefs have become rather eclectic, drawn from numerous beliefs. I prefer a personal religion, while at the same time maintaining a respect for others’ beliefs. I take comfort where it is given.

Thus, I have found Bible verses that took weight from my heart. In Japan, I visited a Buddhist temple to place a Jizou statue in Lauren’s memory. That trip was followed by one to a Shinto shrine, where I grounded myself at a sacred tree dedicated to Konohanasakuya, the patron deity of Mt. Fuji and a protector of women during pregnancy and childbirth. And when we finally have a place of our own, I shall create an altar for Lauren, a sacred space all her own. Each of these practices comes from some religious aspect of my background, and I am grateful for them all. Through them, I find the comfort that I need when I need it. They are always there for me, and I try to remain open to other rituals and practices that I might be able to incorporate into my mourning for Lauren.

6. Is there a season or holiday – other than your child’s birthday – that inspires you to perform a ritual in memory of your child?

Not particularly. We haven’t even made it through three months yet; I don’t know what rituals we might develop as we enter a new year and work through it. For Christmas, we are hanging up a stocking for her, and we have a couple of ornaments that are just for her. I’d like to do the same for her for future Christmases.

7. Is there a ritual you perform every day? Weekly? Monthly? Yearly?

I think of her every day, but there’s no particular ritual that I do for her. I just think about her. And miss her.

Wednesdays always make me pause a bit, particularly the hour between 3pm and 4pm. She was born at 3:44pm. If I happen to look at the clock around that time on Wednesday, I go back to that day, to that moment. It was the last moment I had with her that she was still a part of me.

The 28th day of the month is always the hardest. Another month gone by without her. Another milestone she won’t reach.

And on September 28th, what will I do? A whole year she will have been gone. A whole year without her, after spending three-fourths of a year waiting for her. It will have to be something special, whatever we do. I have time to think about it. For now, I’ll keep up the rituals I have, remembering and missing her monthly, weekly, daily.