TO COMMUNE WITH THE ANCESTORS
A Widow Reflects
Elaine G. McGillicuddy
Self (98 pp.)
A widow draws life lessons from her experience of loving and losing her spouse.
This slim volume from McGillicuddy (A Friend Who Knows the Tone, 2016, etc.) is filled with reflections spurred by the death of her husband, Francis, from cancer in 2010. They met in 1968, and the book’s title refers to a regular ritual that the author’s husband began in the 1990s, when he would make an early-springtime pilgrimage from his home in Portland, Maine, to the uninhabited homesteads of his ancestors in Canterbury, New Brunswick. He called it “communing with his ancestors,” and he clearly didn’t use the phrase in a maudlin or sentimental way.
McGillicuddy uses a similarly heartfelt approach in this book as she recalls her best memories of her husband. She stresses that the practice of communing with ancestors isn’t just for Catholics like her husband but for anybody, and she fleshes out this notion and others in a combination of exposition, journal entries, and poems. In anecdotes throughout the book, McGillicuddy also recounts her own journey through the long, complex process of grieving, touching on her quiet Christian faith. These include frequent moments that will be familiar to those who’ve lost a loved one; at one point, for instance, a performance of Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto by the Portland Symphony Orchestra evokes strong memories of listening to a recording of the same piece on a record that her husband gave her in 1970.
She also recalls holding a potluck benefit event where a guest commented that “Francis is among us”; she was moved to respond, “Indeed he is!” These and other delicate vignettes serve to clarify the book’s sense of loss and raise it to a feeling of companionship. McGillicuddy comes to the realization that “Death is not a catastrophe but instead the door we must pass through to return home.”
A concise and intensely personal collection of memories of a loved one.
Kirkus Indie, Kirkus Media LLC, 2600 Via Fortuna Suite 130 Austin, TX
In To Commune with the Ancestors, Elaine McGillicuddy shows us how she has been able to deal with the loss of her husband: by communing or communicating with the extended “community” of goddaughter, dear friends, music, memories captured in her journal and poetry, reminiscences, religious and scientific thinkers, and the reader him or herself, somewhere out there. Her insights are ones we can all use when that time of grief and loneliness comes: “in losing my husband, I found him.”
Daniel C. Bryant MD, author of House Call
Elaine G McGillicuddy’s To Commune with the Ancestors – A Widow Reflects is more than just a cri du Coeur over the void left by a loved one’s death. By affirming the timelessness of unconditional love, it shows how grief can be transformed into gratitude for the goodness of life, opening the door to a new path and love for others. In reaffirming the Christian doctrine of the communion of saints and how the dead can console and empower those left behind, it sheds light on the mystery of God’s love and our mutual inter-dependence. In short, life is changed, but not taken away. This heartfelt book offers a lifeline to those suffering from loss.
James Clarke, author of Stray Devotions
The author has transformed her grief over the death of her husband Francis into wisdom about how to commune with our “lost” loved ones who live on in the communion of saints. She offers helpful guidance on how we can be comforted by those who have died yet remain with us. Her chapter on her goddaughter Rowan is laced with lovely quotes like the name Rowan gave a box of her love notes to Francis: “a rememberal of Pepe.” Read this book and be connected.
Gloria Hutchinson, author of Aiding Our Friends
Among the Dead – Completing Their Songs
Elaine McGillicuddy shares her reflections as a widow ten years after the death of her husband, Francis. They met in 1968 when she as an Ursuline nun, and he as a diocesan priest, were introduced to each other by the principal of a school where she would be teaching, in a parish he would be overseeing.
Elaine speaks of her grief in the context of the communion of saints to bring out the continuing interplay between the living and those who have died. She derives an updated theology from thinkers like Elizabeth Johnson and Ilia Delio, as well as Deepak Chopra and Thich Nhat Hanh. Perhaps the most touching part of her journal are conversations with her young goddaughter, Rowan, reflecting their memories of Francis. In this short but significant book, McGillicuddy helps us question an over-secularized world concerning options for all who grieve and love those who passed.
Eugene C. Bianchi, Emeritus Professor of Religion, Emory University
Whatever our faith or experience tells us about the afterlife we should hold lightly — we just don’t know. But what Elaine McGillicuddy tells us about is not the afterlife — it is about this life. This life in communion — not simply some séance like communication with the dead — but a genuine heartfelt and mindful co-union with loved ones who have died. She specifically refers to her husband Francis, but the exercise of love — and it is an exercise — is conscious, deliberate and motivated by a loving devotion to the deceased. I’m not sure if it would work with a passing acquaintance but with a deeply loved partner, husband, wife, lover — it can and it will. And Elaine makes clear why it should. Simply put, it breaks one out of the cycle of grief that one feels from the loss of such love to death’s other kingdom. It is communion at its best. It takes us from a life that is just bearable to one that is richly and fully lived. Not a how-to book — but an inspirational guide for uniting lovers separated by death’s now penetrable curtain.
Chris Queally, English Chair (Ret) at Thornton Academy
Shakespeare instructor at USM/OLLI