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

Many religions and cultures have ceremonies in late October and early November to address the growing darkness of the physical world in the northern hemisphere, the coming of winter, and the death of plants and animals. They invite us to enter the sacred space where life and death meet.

In the northern hemisphere, harvest festivals celebrate the crops being brought in. There are celebrations of light with dancing and music. As one season dies it transitions to the next.

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 dimly 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.

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. Or 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 every night. 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.

We need the mindfulness of the holiday back. Whatever faith we follow, and whether or not we follow any faith, we can use this time to remember our dead in ways that honor them and nurture us.

May we each find a quiet place this week where we can remember, honor and breathe.


  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!