Ghost Supper By Kevin Hofmann Director of the Office of Racial Equity and Cultural Inclusion My grandmother was an amazing German immigrant. She was raised in Bad Herenalb, Germany, and came to settle in a German neighborhood in Cleveland, Ohio. She became a mother to three boys and a stay-at-home mother. My father, Richard, was her oldest. Then there was Norman and the youngest was Gordon. When Norman was about 7 years old, he passed away from spinal meningitis. My father was about 9 years old when Norman passed and occasionally Dad would tell me about Norman. Dad would recount the sadness that filled the room he shared with his brother. Dad spoke of the crib that Norman died in that was only feet from my father’s bed. I wondered how scary that must have been to see your young brother just waste away and die. When I was a teenager, my father shared the story of Norman with me. To that point, I didn’t know Dad had another brother. The pain of losing a child was unspeakable for my grandmother. She never spoke about Norman, and no one ever brought him up out of respect for Grandma’s heart and sanity. I remember when I first heard about Norman and his untimely death. I looked at my grandmother. I had never met a mother who lost a child. I assumed mourning had a certain look; it weighed on you I was sure. I never saw it on Grandma. She hid her emotions as well as she hid her homemade chocolate chip cookies. Grandma was my safe place to land. I was the only adopted child in our home. I was the only Black person in our family, and I was self-conscious about that and very untrusting of people. When I was with my grandmother, I knew I was safe. She and I would spend hours sitting on her davenport (the couch) with the white doilies draped over the back of the couch and we would watch the news or cartoons if we could get a clear signal. When I was a freshman in high school, Grandma wasn’t feeling good and after several months and plenty of begging by family members, Grandma went to her doctor to get checked out. She was diagnosed with cancer. Dad would travel back and forth to Cleveland from Detroit over the next couple of weeks as Grandma’s health deteriorated. While Dad was in Cleveland with Grandma early one morning before I went to deliver the morning paper to my customers, Dad called. Grandma had passed away. I never went to visit her in the hospital before she died because death scared me. I was afraid to see death in my grandmother. I was sure once I saw grandma with cancer, death would be revealed and it would only be a matter of time before death won. I wanted to remember my short, German grandmother with her incredible German accent and pure white hair who didn’t have cancer. I wanted to preserve the healthy picture I had of my grandmother. We treated grandma’s death like grandma treated Norman’s death. The memories attached to that person were never spoken of again. Grandma died and after the funeral, it was like she was never there. She was gone and forgotten publicly but quietly I missed her. I missed our cartoon-filled afternoons on the davenport. This past Sunday I got to participate in a Ghost Supper, a native American tradition that honors those that have passed. It was held by a small group of Catholic Sisters and a local group of Native Americans. Each person at the supper arrived with their plate settings and food that reminded them of their loved one. I brought with me small chocolate candies called Melt-Aways. My grandmother was an amazing baker and every Christmas she would make all kinds of holiday loveliness and the Melt- Aways were my favorite. It felt good to think about and tell others about my beloved grandmother. Just prior to us sharing the food we brought we were directed by a native elder to come outside. One of the leaders of the Ghost Supper had gathered a sample of all the food that was brought. Then we put a paper plate full of food on the fire to feed our loved ones who have passed and now watch over us. We gave them food to keep them strong as they look out for us. All of us present were given a pinch of tobacco and one by one we approached the fire, said a prayer for our loved one, and added the tobacco to the fire. It was nice to think about my grandmother and remember her. It felt good to let her know I missed her. I wished she would have been able to see me date, get married, and have children. She would have loved them. I was honored to be a part of such a great experience and so humbled to be asked to join the Ghost Supper.