‘Tis the Season to Remember Our Dead

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‘Tis the season to remember our dead

It was the blue-black hour, twilight, on a Saturday evening at the end of October. My husband, 10 year-old daughter, and I were attending an All Souls event at our local cemetery. We stood in the shadows on the periphery of the infant memorial shrine in and around a majestic ornamental plum tree at the cemetery. Flickering candlelight danced off the backs of the people in front of us.

There were elders, teenagers, couples and little kids. A woman about my age, silent tears running down her face, placed a memorial candle inside one of the many wee cradles swaying from branches. A little boy, red toque askew and brown curls tumbling out, was lifted up high to hang the long loop of rough yarn attached to a craft paper gift card with a handwritten message. Tentatively at first, and then with more ease, we made our way closer to the big tree to read messages, watch the empty cradles rock and remember the babies, brother Cian and sister Lilja, who never breathed outside my womb.  

The threads of our losses are woven into a larger human tapestry.

Across the ages and in present day, many cultures and religions around the world take time at the end of October and early November to honour their dead. Events like the All Souls programming at our local municipally-owned-and-operated cemetery, create an opportunity for us to pause, remember, and feel connected to something outside of ourselves and our intimate circle. After spending time at the infant memorial shrine, I sensed that the threads of my losses were woven into a larger human tapestry.  

I remember the dead in my life in different ways. There’s the beginnings of an ancestor photo gallery on a wall in our bedroom. We planned our summer vacation this year around a visit to the Icelandic settlement community and its wee cemetery where my husband’s “people” are buried. And just recently, on the birthday of one of my dearest friends who died over a dozen years ago, I reached out to her daughter on Facebook as an act of remembrance.

Yearning for more remembering

Despite these acts of remembering, I yearn for more remembering and honouring the dead in my life. I feel enlivened and inspired when I reflect on the relationship, lineage and opportunity I’ve been gifted by those who came and died before me.

If you’re moved to remember in community, use these keywords to search for seasonal events near you: All Souls Day, Night for All Souls, All Saints Day, Day of the Dead, and An Samhain (which evolved into Halloween).

What about you?

What’s your experience with remembering your dead?

How does remembering your ancestors impact your life today?

5 Comments

  • Michelle (& Reena),

    Thank you for sharing this touching ceremony and your additional suggestions. As a grief support provider, I agree that such acts of remembrance can be very helpful to each one of us, whether the death is recent or long ago.

    You might be interested in a blog post I just published in the same vein. It provides some ideas for stepping away from the commercial aspects of the late-October/early-November holidays and creating your own observance. http://companioning.care/2018/10/12/ancient-holidays-enrich-connections-to-beloved-dead/

    In appreciation for the important work you do,

    ~ Marcella

    • Thank you for your thoughtful reply Marcelle. You article is informative and inspirational, full of ideas to consider for how we might remember our dead as well as how to be mindful about the impact of our experiences. I love about how to remember and how to pay attention to t to pay attention and for sharing your articles. Your last sentence stirs me deeply, “May it be so, and may our current, co-mingled culture grow in depth and richness as we all learn to honestly face death.” Merci.

  • Michelle, I’m so glad you found my blog post touching. Thanks for taking the time to read it and comment on it here!

    And, again, much appreciation to you and Reena for Willow EOL’s good work in the world!

    ~ Marcella
    Oregon, U.S.

  • I too love graveyards and have always visited them wherever I travel. Such peaceful places and oh, those stories etched on the graves. Three in particular have moved me this year.

    Recently I visited Pere Lachais cemetery in Paris and although I looked for famous graves stones, Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison and Chopin etc. I found two beautiful sculptures on graves with few words that deeply affected me. One was of a boy about twelve years old and his dog and the other was of a gorgeous young woman with one word Maggiori at her feet. I wondered about their life and death and imagined those who loved them enough to put these lovely monuments as their memorial.

    Then we traveled to Ypres, Belgium, in search of my grandfather’s name on the Menin Gate memorial. That was a very different experience, extreme sadness took the place of peace in my heart as I looked at endless grave yards all over the countryside mostly of young men killed too soon, away from their homes and I thought about those who loved and needed them. One young boy was only 16, like many others he had lied about his age in order to join in this great adventure. Then there were the 55,000 names, including my grandfathers, who were never found and have no other memorial except the Menin gate. What brought closure and peace to me was attending the last post evening ceremony at the gate complete with piper and attended by hundreds of people from all over the world. This event has been offered every night at sunset since it was built in 1927 and is a very moving experience. I came away feeling healed for myself, my mother and especially my grandmother who waited all her life for his return.

    The third experience was about a special place in Vancouver at Mountain View Cemetery and I had heard about its creation a few years ago on CBC and vowed to go and see it and there it was a few hundred yards from the Celebration Hall where I was going to attend my first Willow meeting on October 22nd. I saw a beautiful oasis with paths, flowering plants and shrubs and a dry creek full of pebbles big and small. Each of these had names of babies who had never had a chance to be welcomed or grieved in this world by their loved ones because the societal and medical norm for still born babies at the time was to not mention them again and move on. One larger stone I was especially drawn to because my daughter has twin baby girls said “triplet girls 1916” and I thought of how tragic it would have been if our girls had not survived and all our family would not have been allowed to honour their birth and death. I went away feeling so glad that this beautiful space had been created and that even though too late for many, there were some parents at the opening of this important place.

    • Thank you so much Diane for sharing about your moving experiences with cemeteries. I cried when I read about the nightly last post evening ceremony at the Menin Gate. It sounds like your travels and devotion to remembering have had a powerful impact on your life. Here is a link if anyone wishes to read more about Mountain View’s Infant Memorial garden.

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