DAY OF THE DEAD: A SERIES OF ALTARS
A TRIBUTE TO THOSE LOST
CELEBRATE THE LIFE
REMEMBER THE SOUL
Remembering death is easy, remembering life is hard. I wouldn’t have cried when you passed away if you had only been there to tell me it’s not my fault. You had such a rich interior existence in your brief life, it is even difficult for me to resort to some sort of verbal slide projector reel of smiling moments. How could words ever express how perspicacious, humbling and soulbound you were with everybody around you? All you needed was a breath of fresh air and in the next breath you were soothing people, drying their tears and making them laugh. When you finally passed away, it was just us men. We did not handle things gracefully and nobody expected us to. Yet what we felt as a family was a fraction of the grief you lived with all your life. Dad remembers you best watching the sun go down on the beach in Kincardine. Even in the afterlife, you cherish us with such gifts as this. Thank you for everything you could give us Mom, your life was an inspiration.
– Jay Miller
Dad, I’m forever grateful you exposed me to so much culture, including wild arthouse films like Tetsuo II: Body Hammer, Underground, and The Butcher Boy. Thank you for taking me to museums, plays, and that gallery exhibit where Damian Hirst vivisected a shark. Thank you for all our walks around Chicago, those heady days when Clark and Belmont felt like the center for the universe. I appreciate you taking me to bookstores like Powell’s, letting me cultivate my interests, and allowing me to pursue my passions. Thank you for your understanding and your adventurous spirit of curiosity. I miss you.
-Joseph S. Pete
POP was “the astronaut” of the family
Fred Shrum, II. 1943-2019
A Vietnam veteran, Fred served in the Navy on the aircraft carriers Yorktown and Bonne Homme Richard. After an honorable discharge, he graduated pilot school and was a pilot for many years. He first flew propeller planes and witnessed the rise of the jet age. His favorite planes were the F-27 and Learjet. He went on to own many aviation companies such as East Coast Airways, North American Aircraft, North American Jet Sales and Crown Aviation. Fred was also the Treasurer of Ernie Haire Ford in Tampa. Fred enjoyed world travel, boats, trains, cars, history, books, baseball, the Redskins and all things aviation.
-Fred Shrum, III
I don’t know what faith is but my bosom still heaves sighs as I raise my hands to pray for your health, mother.
For Wren: Bowerbird’s missing you.
My brother Peter – raconteur, musician, dissembler, reader, and writer, supportive friend. Anti-snob aficionado of the definitely non-craft Canadian beer called Boh. Self-described Mama’s boy, he had a deep connection with our mother, sharing his emotional truths with her while withholding the messier details, similar to the way he always wore a long-sleeved shirt or jean jacket to our parents’ house, so Mom was never aware of the tattoos covering his arms. He lived, breathed, and argued music, without consideration for genre; it was either good or it was “pure shite”. With his powerful raw voice, he fronted and wrote lyrics for Sourmash, his band project with good friend Gord Smith. Their music was “agro-punk”: aggro- for the aggravation the force and volume of the music sometimes caused; agri- for agriculture, playing on our home town Regina being the capital of Canada’s agricultural heartland. (To my great delight, the band’s only album, Day of the Jackalope, recently became available on Apple Music, and a few clips from a 1997 show are on YouTube, including https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TYsjKtl1Apg). Generous but hard-headed, he died 20 years ago this month, far too young at age 37, from an infection that could have been fixed if he hadn’t been too stubborn to get medical help. Still a huge hero to his nieces and nephew, all young kids at the time of his death, and still deeply missed by me, by our sister Janet, and by his many close friends.
The Legend Who Smoked Tareyton Cigarettes
When I was a child my grandmother told me I could do anything I wanted to do and to never let anyone bring me down. Despite passing over ten years ago, she remains the toughest person I ever knew. For a Black woman of her time, she overcame every obstacle put in front of her. She married my grandfather, a Black WWII veteran, and had three beautiful children, my mother, my aunt, and my uncle. In school, my grandmother had straight A’s all the way until she graduated from high school. Unfortunately, college was not an opportunity available to her. Despite this, she went on to take one course in psychology at the Community College of Philadelphia in her sixties, while managing a McDonald’s. Once again, she got an A. Although she never earned a degree, her descendants collectively have earned six (A.A., B.A., B.S., B.S., MAT, Ed.D). She also worked in the cafeteria at Haverford College just five miles outside of West Philadelphia. She was a legend who smoked Tareyton cigarettes from age 17 to 70. I can still smell them now. Her favorite hobby was playing the lottery, and she literally filled books with thousands of number combinations. She won pretty big once. I don’t know how much, nothing crazy. But we did go to Disney World because of it. After retiring she broke her hip, and shortly after she suffered from two strokes. The doctors said she probably would not be able to walk anymore. She continued to walk. Over the next few years, she developed Parkinson’s Disease but this did not stop her from walking either. Now instead, she used a cane or walker. Eventually she laid rest in 2010, 8 years after her diagnosis. I miss her everyday, but I feel her presence with me at all times.
–Chris L. Butler
Cleo and Anubis, two of the finest pieces of my heart, taught me many lessons in their lifetimes. Cleo: brilliant, loving, always scheming and thieving, empathetic, joyful. She taught me that if you want something, you need to BARK. Anubis: brave, protective, loyal, eternally guarding me from squirrels, dachshunds, and pizza delivery men. Running was his greatest joy. He taught me to be courageous in the face of cancer. They will never be forgotten, and I believe their souls are never that far away from us.
– Karen Steiger
This photo is me holding Jazzman who agreed with everyone who ever said I talk too much and often put his paw to my lips to make me stop. I miss him every day and I always celebrate #caturday
Why Did You Die
Placed at the altar by Cherokee Lair
Transitional times and a tuxedo kitten looking up at me from a cardboard box
in front of Publix
I knew I would kill a plant but I thought perhaps I could feed and water a cat
I named him Jazzman because he was
And even after he was fixed, he sprayed on everything that smelled like my ex which still makes me laugh
And he chewed off the cords of every set of blinds on every window in my house
And he left poo presents in front of my bedroom door if I was gone too long
And he slept in my arms like a baby some nights, all night, which I loved
And when I realized he was using my collection of classic jazz vinyl as a
Scratching post, I admonished me not him
And when he seemed lonely I got my pet a pet
And we all got on and for a time we were very truly happy
Until that night I moved him to sleep at my feet because his sick pet wanted
to sleep by my head
Then suddenly at 4:53 am I woke and jumped out of bed
I knew he was dead
I wrapped my naked body in a blanket and ran to my
Neighbor’s house and stood trembling in my living room
While she checked “He’s dead” she said
I fainted like some kind of simpering useless helpless Jane Austen character that
I would have loathed and when I came to, I said “How?” and she said “I don’t know”
So, I prayed to every religious entity that I’ve ever dismissed:
Mary and Jesus and Buddha and Vishnu and God herself
And I promised to believe in something if they would just tell me that Jazzman didn’t die because I kicked him in the head while I slept or because I broke his heart when i moved
him away from his sanctioned sleeping spot and down to my feet
I got no answers so I still don’t believe but like a good little girl I also still pretend
That St. Peter will tell me “Why” at the Pearly Gates and then let me fly away
Last year, the baby we were expecting never appeared on the screen. She stopped growing before I could even see her, and I guess I‘m no good at growing Ivys. It is a unique pain, missing someone you’ve never known.
Ty had a big head. A thick, bullish orb attached to a body that was a bit too compact, a little too stocky, so that he always looked like a puppy waiting to grow into its oversized toddler head. I liked to press my head against his whenever the world became too much for me, which was often. The firm pressure of our foreheads meeting, the steady rhythm of his breath. It soothed me. He died last year and I thought, this is as low as life can get, ignorant to the cracks forming in the foundation of our world. Unaware of how suddenly the ground would fall away beneath our feet in the year to come. And now he is not here, in this time when the world is too much for me always, every day. Instead, I drop my forehead to the cold plane of the coffee table, and weep for everything we have lost.
– Claire Taylor
You taught me the empty space on a page can reveal just as much as the words of a poem.
You taught me to expect important things from myself —a way of life I had never considered.
When your life was pooling around you in bed,
weeping from your body,
when you were wrapped up,
when you were thrown away,
when you laid in that cold river,
everything felt frantically numb and inexplicably cruel, in a way I couldn’t quite get a hold of.
Then, grief quiets itself. It has to in order to inch itself into the background of life—like a lyric or phrase on the tip of your tongue but just out of reach, so all that remains is silence. You prepared me for this.
I feel like he would want to be in hell, because that’s where the people he cared about would be. In the Divine Comedy, Dante puts Ulysses in hell, because Dante understands Ulysses better than Homer. Dante knew that Ulysses wouldn’t be happy in Ithaca, but would ultimately go back out and die at sea because he’s Ulysses. I got Spencer’s best years of life. But at the end of the day, Ulysses was Ulysses and Spencer was Spencer. We played the best game we could with the cards that we were dealt. Barreling toward death, we chose to live. He was a moody, scrappy motherfucker, not a soothing, comforting presence by any means. He seemed invincible, and I think he thought he was too. I think we both needed to believe he was invincible to stave off the encroaching shadows. But at the end of the day, Ulysses was Ulysses and Spencer wasn’t invincible.
Baxter Kazmierz Schmidt (2006-2017)
Baxter Kazmierz Schmidt found his person in a Wal-Mart parking lot in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan in July 2006. When she came into the fenced-in area, he knew this was his girl, pushed through his retreating siblings, climbed into her lap, and fell asleep. It was love at first sight. His first four years were spent living in Indian Orchard, Massachusetts while his human completed her undergraduate degree, thrilled to see her during holiday breaks. When finally reunited in 2010, Baxter and his human moved to the Outer Banks of North Carolina where he spent his time napping in hammocks and chasing power-kites on the sand dunes. Though he had a zest for life, he loathed water in all forms – ocean, lake, rain, puddles, but adored snow, especially the first snowfall of each year. Baxy loved everyone he met and was a 120 lb lap dog and cuddle bug. He preferred car rides, long hikes and camping, other dogs, and once helped rescue a baby bird that had fallen from a tree. People who knew him referred to him as a marshmallow and at times a Shetland pony due to his large size. After saving his human’s life through his unconditional love and firm belief that as long as they were together, everything would be okay, Baxter moved to Maine in 2010 to support his human becoming a snowboarding instructor at Sunday River while she recovered from a severe depressive episode. Here he could be found hanging out with the liftees, attending social gatherings, and meeting as many people as he could, always with a wagging tail. In 2015, Baxter was promoted to life companion to emotion support animal (ESA) for his human and took his job very seriously, sure to offer cuddles and support daily. Sadly, Baxter was diagnosed with Hemangiosarcoma in March 2017 and was given a life expectancy of four to eight weeks. He fought to stay with his human, knowing she would be devastated without him, and lived nearly six months, allowed to go to work with his human every day, and ate many Starbucks pup cups. Though he never lost his zest and vigor for life, he continued to attract new friends until his passing, on August 14, 2017. He was surrounded by the dog and human he loved best. He is survived by the love of his life and best friend, Kyla, a tolerable pack member, Enyo, a cat who never quite forgave him for “The Book Room Incident” TaylorSwift, and human, Lynne. He has been missed by his pack and those who loved him every day since he left
. -Lynne Schmidt
A Eulogy 18 Years Late
When I asked Dad if I could read something I had written for you at your funeral, he said no. I was 24 years old and still accepted his irrational, iron-fist decisions as gospel. I was so hurt by being silenced in my grief of losing you—my grandmother Anna Lee Cooper Hammond—that I didn’t realize there was a family section and ended up sitting next to your first-grade teacher. She spoke lovingly of your sass and wit and how she wished you would have had so much more than an eighth-grade education. Meanwhile, the reverend who shared a few words only spoke in vague platitudes. When he said you had lived in California, the state, instead of California, Missouri, I started to cry. He got everything wrong. He didn’t know you were a “change-in-life baby” born to your 42-year-old mother Fannie, how you wore flour-sack dresses as a little girl, how you would shush and rock me to sleep, how you were almost six-feet tall and big and beautiful and could jitterbug, waltz, and two-step with the best of them, how your lipstick kiss always left a waxy imprint, how you blew mentholated smoke into my swimmer’s ear one summer because folk remedies and salve solved all, how your honeyed voice sang Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn, how you stayed up late to watch Jenny Jones or Ricki Lake and woke up early to watch hummingbirds and Carolina chickadees with a cup of coffee, how you kept a stack of National Enquirers on the corner of the brick fireplace, how you made the best blackberry cobbler and fried chicken and biscuits and gravy, how you loved Fuzzy Navels and hated redheads since Granddad had an affair with one of them, how you thought I was a lesbian because I didn’t have a steady boyfriend in college so you discussed your hypotheses at the Thanksgiving dinner table, how you told me to forgive my abusive father, your second and last son, again and again when I should have told him to go to hell, especially at your funeral.
-Michaella A. Thornton
For Douglas Arthur Knapp
Philo Sophias’ spiritus Gnostic Salve salves of wisdom
Selves emanating perpetuities of Cosmological ex Machina expansion
Metamodernist metanarratives Mythos of eternal recurrence
Goodbye: For Mom and Dad
Placed at the altar by Meagan Johanson
It took me a long time to believe in death. As a child, I never saw it. No dead bodies. No slack-jawed mouths. Even pets didn’t keel over, they just disappeared in the back field overnight, as if they might come back any minute, any day. Death was a waiting bag of ashes on the mantel. Death was the smooth mausoleum walls—the slippery floors, my fingertips on nameplates, the echo my footsteps made. My parents taught
me, if I had faith in something, it was true, like god or love, worlds I imagined or stories I read. I didn’t believe in death. I believed in life and in words; I still do, perhaps more than I should.
But truth catches up eventually—even to the most delusional of us. And just like the heavenly father and lot, I haven’t seen you in a while, Dad. Mom, too. Not for many years before your deaths. Nor did I attend your memorials, knowing by then you wouldn’t be at them either.
Death is real; I know this. You’re both gone, as is the field behind the house, now cement and office space. But the echoes are there. The bushes you transplanted between the buildings still grow. I see you in the rogue curls of my son’s hair, in his buoyant, infectious curiosity that no one can help but catch, if close. I know you in the wit of my daughter’s pen, the confident lines of her brush strokes, the immobile grit when she decides a thing. Even now, as I write this at your old desk, Mom, there is dust in the drawer I refuse to clean out. You’re gone, but these things are real.
I’ve let you both fall to fable—to words, a faith I understand. I memorialize versions of you in story corners, in poems and proverbs and psalms. Every time an old man tucks his grandchild in, it could be you. Or a crone mentoring a fresh-faced witch—unconditional, gentle, kind, fair—that could have been you too. I write you inside these edges of truth, and suspend belief between.
So, this is the goodbye part. I do like this word. It’s not an ending to me—surprise, surprise. There’s something more after it. There’s godspeed and movement, adventure and joy. Something bright, something soft, something sweet, something good. That’s the death I believe in now: the echoes of it within the lives that are left.
Goodbye, Mom. Goodbye, Dad. I’m grateful for the chance to write this, to make it real now,
When I met Lalie she was 83. She was honest, true to herself, selfless, kind. She was funny and passionate, incredibly strong. Her fierceness radiated through the dark bright eyes she closed one final time on 2 November 2019.
– BF Jones
“Listen to the fireworks…”
For every day that passes, another part of me forgets. Time defeats the living – but I remember that freckle on your arm. I try to keep myself from dying, I really do. If you’re hanging around, I hope you hear me talking to you. I hope you know that most everything I’ve done, and everything yet to come, is all for you. Oh, how I wish so much that I could have been your hero.
I adopted you right after 9/11. A coworker had rescued a pregnant cat, and I’d called dibs on one of the kittens. Your sisters were sweet, gentle, quiet. You, well, you were an asshole the moment you entered this world. You were demanding, loud, a whirlwind of aggressiveness and possessiveness. And I immediately and completely loved you. No one else saw that cream-puff side of you, how every night for eighteen years you’d curl up under my chin and throw one paw over my neck, like you were telling me “Shhh, this is how we dream together.” I lost my voice the day I drove you to the vet for the last time. It took me months before I could say your name again. People still talk about you—”That was the craziest cat I’ve ever met!” and “It’s like he thought he was married to you or something!” I laugh along with them—”Yep, he was one of a kind”—but a part of me wants to scratch their eyes out, to defend you, to tell them to shut up because they’ll never understand and that I’m tired of pretending you weren’t the love of my life. RIP, Monet. Until we see each other again… L Mari Harris