A Personal Journey Through Samhain

By Tabitha Chamberlain

Fall has always been a favorite time of year for me. I love the crisp air, the smell of wood smoke from a chimney or bonfire, the crunch of the leaves under my feet, just everything about it. Halloween also happens to be my favorite holiday, even when I was a child. I never celebrated it the ways others did, mostly because of moving around so much as a kid. When I started learning and practicing Paganism a lot of things started solidifying for me.

In early October of 2009, my dad died. It wasn’t sudden, it was something we all knew was coming. Yet it was somehow unexpected to me. I lived with my dad from the time I was two until a month before my 16th birthday. So he had this “larger than life” quality to me for several reasons, that being just one of them.

This is also when my love of Halloween, suddenly meshed into a perfect understanding of Samhain for me.

Why am I exposing myself like this? I want to share my personal journey, of how Samhain became more than just a celebration for me. It became an understanding of traditions, ancestors worship, and a deeper connection to my own relationships, to believe it or not. Not just those that have passed on, but all of my relationships in life.

At the time, I took off for a few weeks from work. Spending the middle part of that October with my family as we watched my dad fade away in a coma at the age of 55.

I remember the morning that my dad died. I was working nights at the time I was use to be being up ridiculously early. My stepmom was really struggling, she was so distraught at the thought of losing my dad, but at the same time not being able to see him how he was now. That larger than life, happy, go lucky man we all knew reduce to so little.

We sat there at the table talking, her telling me about all of this, drinking coffee as we watched the daybreak in the window. I told her that morning, that she needs to make a decision of if she's ready to let go. If she was ready, she needed to tell my dad this. Otherwise, he would stay at least as long as he was able to. That afternoon she asked to be alone with dad, we all left the room. When she was talking to him, he passed on.

He died on a Monday, I stayed with her until his funeral on Thursday. My grandmother and myself helping her through her struggles now that she was on her own. Yet both my grandma and I dealing with our own struggles. For me, it was knowing that I loved my dad, but at the same time being so angry and mad at him for leaving us, way too early.

That year when I got back home, I live about an hour or so away from the rest of my family, I felt compelled to do something to honor my dad. It stunned me at how deep this feeling ran. I had to do something. The rest of that week, as I waited for the 31st to roll around. I walked in the park across from my apartment just reflecting, on what, I couldn't even begin to tell you. This was an emotional roller coaster, that I was fighting against.

I also spent the week setting up my seasonal alter atop of my bookcase. There's an alter cloth that is actually a fall table runner. Autumn leaves, little pumpkins, with black and orange candles set between them. My stepmom asked all of us kids what we would like to take with us of our dad. I choose his lighter. He carried a zippo since as long as I remember, it was placed up on the altar as well.

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Samhain arrived, I spent the morning baking, something at the time I hated to do. Little memories, through out the day keep floating by, of things he liked and didn't like. Things I had long forgotten over the years. As my day kept going, I kept adding little things to my altar. Things that were of my granddad's who died two weeks after my youngest son, which was 7 years before. I also lost my brother almost a year before my dad. I didn't have anything of my brother's who was more of a stranger to me, but I did add something for him as well.

As darkness fell on me that night. I lit all of the candles, placed dishes of the things that I had baked. I started to feel acceptance of losing my dad. This was the day, that I fully understood. The celebration isn't simply to acknowledge our ancestors, but in a lot of respects our own selves. As it is only when we see where we came from do we see who we are.

I learned a lot about myself in the years since my dad passed. I did learn a lot about my dad, about my relationship with him and those relationships I have with others. I don't think I would have found this understanding if I hadn't felt so compelled that Samhain to celebrate the death of my father. Not in some macabre way, but in the celebration of his crossing into the next life.

Image:  Tabitha Chamberlain

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