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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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Grace Cathedral

For a number of years, Halloween didn’t do much for me. There is pressure to buy decorations, dress up in ghoulish costumes, eat lots of candy, and ooh and aah over neighborhood children who come to the door being cute.

In society’s push to make money out of everything, including death, in our costumed depictions of violent and gory ways to die, in our attempts to downplay the traumatic realities of grief, we do disservice to our dead, especially if they died because of an act of violence.

We also do disservice to ourselves, and damage the fabric that holds us together in the time of grief. If our loved one died this year, then death is probably too close and too raw for us to even think about poking fun at it. At a time when we can barely tolerate any mention of death, seeing dozens of people laughing as serial killers and flesh-eating zombies can spiral us out of the fragile control we’ve been able to patch together.

We need time by ourselves in a quiet place to remember the people we loved so that their lives do not end with their deaths. Underneath all the Halloween decorations and activities, we feel a longing to make peace with our fear of death, not just flick our nose at it.

It was the Celtic celebration of Samhain that made me care about this holy day again, because it acknowledges that death is real, that our hearts have been torn apart, that the spirit world is real, and that on this night the veil between our world and the next world thins, and we can dimly see and communicate with each other again.

The Halloween I cherish the most is the one that came seven months after Evelyn died. Late in the afternoon, I went to Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. Only two people were there, kneeling by the rows of red votives burning up front.

I sat on a wooden pew in the darkness of the massive stone cathedral with gray pillars and walls rising up to a vaulted roof. Later, as dusk came, a small group of people gathered in a side chapel to sing evensong. I watched the candles burn in the darkness, listened to the music move through the cathedral, and thought of Ev’s love and compassion, and in remembering I felt her close.

Every Halloween I return to Grace Cathedral, if only in my mind, and watch the candles flicker in the darkness inside that gray stone building. The candles burn for the dead. They also burn for the living, to guide us home.

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