Honoring our Ancestors

    This is the time of year when the veils between the worlds are the thinnest. In many cultures and traditions, it is a time to honor ancestors. I think one of the best ways to honor our ancestors is by telling their stories. 

    When we tell the stories of our ancestors, we not only honor them, but we also learn something about ourselves. This may be valuable to our health and healing. My friend, Dr. Annabelle Nelson PhD, has discovered that when teens tell the stories of their ancestors, it prevents substance abuse. 

    I had a great-great-great grandmother, Wilhelmina, who immigrated from Germany in 1891. She was 51-years-old when she left Pommern,“the land by the sea,” formerly a part of Prussia, and now a part of Poland. She brought her daughter, Amelia, with her. 

    Many people who lived in that region at that time were Ashkenazi Jews (perhaps this explains my feelings of “Jewishness”). Some converted to Christianity when Hitler was coming into power. Others fled. Maybe Wilhelmina could smell the imminent blood on the waters, or maybe she simply thought her children had a better chance of finding their fortune as they left the land at the sea for the American Dream. 

    They settled in Wells, Minnesota and farmed. Amelia gave birth to Elsie, the first to be born on American soil. Amelia died when Elsie was just a little girl. 

    During the Great Depression, Elsie lost all of her money in the bank and was forced to sell her home. This is why my grandmother (her daughter) never trusted banks, preferring to keep her money hidden under the mattress. The family moved into an old farm house in Northern Minnesota. The farm house had no indoor plumbing or electricity, and the kitchen floor was made of dirt. Yet my mother (who was born there) remembers it fondly. For it was her grandmother’s house and she loved the smell of homemade bread baking in the wood stove. 

    My grandmother, LaDonna, became an officer’s wife during World War II, something she was very proud of. She taught all the army brats (children) how to ride horses. My mother remembers her childhood as difficult, for as military, they moved a lot. Because of this she said she never made friends and barely finished high school. 

    Sometimes, ancestors may not be easy to honor or were downright dishonorable. This may be a favorable time to do some healing from the skeletons in the closet. I suggest that these too are important stories to tell. Any guilt or shame are not your burdens to carry. Releasing the silence will free you and your future generations. 

    May you find some ancestors worthy of your honor. And may you find healing from others. Tell the stories of your relations. All my relations.