This week the Church celebratedAll Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day – “Dia de los Muertos” – the day of the dead – and dedicates the whole month of November to remembering and praying for all souls who have gone passed from this life to the next.
If I were an anthropologist (maybe in another life) I’d present an essay on the all similarities found among cultures throughout human history when it comes to how people deal with death. While the beliefs and traditions vary widely, humans have consistently participated in some form of remembrance and ritual to honor those who have died. No matter what, death always affects us, in one way or another.
Growing up, I always liked All Saints’ Day better than All Souls. Celebrating those who are already enjoying peace and ultimate happiness in heaven is much happier and exciting than thinking of the ones who may still be suffering in purgatory. Plus, the Catholic schools always had All Saints’ Day off school but not All Souls.
Yet, life has a way of changing our perspectives and now, as I’ve grown older and lost more close family and friends over the recent years, and especially after my dad’s in December last year, I have a greater appreciation for All Souls’ Day now.
A good friend sent me a message letting me know she, who has also lost someone very close, was thinking of me and my family today and praying for us and my dad’s soul along with her loved one’s. She knows days like this are hard as it causes us to remember that we now have someone close to miss – a soul – who is no longer with us here but may not be fully united with Christ yet either.
And that’s the beauty and wisdom of the Church. She gives us days like this for us to remember and pray for the souls of those gone but also to provide grace, strength, and support to those of us who are grieving as we miss them.
I appreciated how my friend reached out so much, it truly lifted my own heavy soul and I was aware that God had sent me His Grace through this friend. I admitted that, yes, days like this are hard but there is also much grace that comes from this day also.
The kids had the day off from school for All Saints’ Day and so we were able to join my mom at the cemetery where my Dad’s remains are. We joined her in praying the first day of a special Novena (nine-day prayer) for Holy Souls in Purgatory. We prayed for his soul and other family and friends of ours who have passed on and the kids liked looking at the names engraved on the niches and praying for them too.
After the novena prayer that was about all the kids could handle inside – and me too – so we decided to take a little walk to see how the new mausoleum is coming along. It was a lovely autumn day – 70’s with very little breeze, whispy clouds dancing like angels in the clear blue sky above, crisp leaves crunching under the kids’ feet, a late-morning sun casting slanty shadows on the green grass.
I inhaled deeply, feeling the fresh oxygen fill my lungs and a mixture of emotions bubble up in my heart, then I slowly let it out...releasing.
The kids gleefully ran along the path, innocently oblivious to the fact that they were running around in a cemetery not just a park. Their zeal for life and endless energy vividly contrasted with the absolute lack of life below the ground they ran by (but not on!).
We all sat down on the nice benches set up around the mausoleum and I handed out the Halloween candy we’d brought with us to eat together in honor of their Grandpa since he missed out on the trick-or-treating with us this year and sneaking his fingers into the kids’ candy bags. Kit Kats will now forever make me happysad.
Happysad: when you feel both happy and yet sad all at the same time. One of my 4th grade son’s classmates said this the other day when I was there for a Dia de los Muertos art project and we talked about those who have died and purgatory and heaven and all that “light” stuff. 😉 She said when she hears about someone who has died, she “feels sad…but also happy because I know they are probably happier now but I’m still sad because I miss them. So I’m happysad.”
Yes, Happysad, indeed.
Halloween last year was one of our last “happy” memories with my dad before, a couple weeks later, we first got the news of his cancer diagnosis. The seasons are changing and, just like a mother reflects back on the events surrounding the time before her baby was born, I find myself doing the same about the memories from last year – only for a different reason.
It’s hard, the memories. They are always lurking, always following me everywhere. I’ve tried ignoring them, tried to just “go on with my life”, hiding my face from them, shutting my eyes tightly so I can’t see them. I want to remember, don’t ever want to forget him. And really, I am thankful for so many memories I have of him. But sometimes it just hurts too much.
But the memories remain and they are stronger than me. And I’m starting to see, through prayer, that maybe God is trying to get me to look at them for a reason. Maybe he wants to show me something I wasn’t able to see before.
I read something the other day that gave me such a great pause I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it:
Did you know there could be such a thing?
Well, I think this is the phrase God wants me to ponder on, he wants to show me that even in sorrow – there can be joy. But I have to accept the sorrow first before I can see the joy.
I have to slowly release, loosen my tight grip, and slowly open my eyes and look – so that He can show me what I didn’t see before, what I couldn’t: the Joy.
Like my friend, Jeannie Ewing, says so well in her book, From Grief to Grace: The Journey from Tragedy to Triumph
When we stop running from God’s invitation to open our hearts ever wider to the magnificent chasm of His love and mercy, we will discover peace infiltrating our entire being. – Jeannie Ewing, From Grief to Grace
Pray for me as I go through this process, this new “stage” of grief I must go to as part of the healing process.
For the souls of all the departed,
May Christ grant them eternal peace.
For the souls grieving,
May Christ send his grace and strength to sustain them.