Every Wednesday

Every Wednesday I will post something about grief. Sometimes it will be a reflection on an aspect of grief’s landscape. Now and then I will share from my own journey of grief, because in the sharing of our stories we find strength and build a community of people that support one another.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Feasting On the Dead

The calendar at the end of the year fills up with observances in cultures and religions around the world. In many of them, death is woven into the fabric. Yet, even though we honor our dead and dress up in skeleton costumes, we don’t take advantage of the opening to talk to each other about death, dying or grief.

In the northern hemisphere, harvest festivals celebrate the crops being brought in. There are celebrations of light with dancing and music.

Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, is on Oct. 30th this year. Samhain, the ancient Celtic celebration of the harvest and preparation for the dark half of the year, is on Oct. 31st. On this night the Celts believed the barrier between worlds thinned, and the living and the dead could see and talk with each other.

On Nov. 1-2, Mexican cultures celebrate Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) to remember their loved ones and assist them on their spiritual journey. This observance has its roots in the Aztec culture.

Halloween (All Hallows’ Eve) starts the festivities for many people in North America and Europe on the 31st. It’s the first of three days of observances in the Christian Church. All Saints Day is November 1st, and All Souls Day is on the 2nd.

Many celebrations also have roots in Nature as the harvest is brought and one season transitions to the next. No matter what social rituals you observe, go outdoors and observe the changing colors of the land.

If you lost someone this year, you may not want to participate in any celebration. You don’t have to.

Focus on what you need. Choose the celebrations that help you. Ignore the rest. Skip everything and go out of town for a few days. Or stay home and watch Netflix. Read a long novel like Don Quixote.

If someone you loved has died, all the talk about death, often in flippant ways, can be brutal. Seeing zombies walking stiff-legged down your street, or bloody bodies with knives sticking out of them, can be too much, especially if your loved one died violently. If you need to turn your porch light off on Halloween night and not give out any candy, by all means, do that.

If you want to do something to honor your dead, there are a variety of ways to do this. You can create personal Rituals, like lighting candles on each night of the Halloween season. On the 31st, spend time thinking about your loved one. On All Saints Day, honor the people who have been saints in your life, those who have stepped in and helped you at crucial times. On All Souls Day, remember all the family members and friends who have died over the years. Listen for their presence.

You can also visit their graves or the places where their ashes were scattered. Do an activity that your loved one liked — movies, miniature golf or hiking. Create an altar with items significant to the one who died. Talk to the departed as if they could hear you because, as the ancient Celts believed, they might.

In this season of celebration, we are reminded that life is short, and that death often comes unexpectedly. We have today to grieve. We also only have today to live.

Quaff a flagon of apple cider, get your animal spirit on, and bay at the lonely, lovely beauty of the silver slivery moon.


  1. A really great post, Mark. I especially like Samhain and the idea of the barrier thinning between the worlds of the living and the dead. Cheers!