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, November 1, 2017

Celebrating Our Dead

For many of us, Halloween is the best time of the year to talk about death. Except that we don’t. Some cultures have annual celebrations for their dead like the Obon festival in Japan, and Sweeping the Grave in China.

In the northern hemisphere, late October and early November mark the end of the growing season and the bringing in of the harvest, autumn changes to winter, and night’s darkness lasts longer. There are a variety of cultural and religious observances that deal with these transitions and invite us to enter the sacred space where life and death meet.

Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, was on Oct. 19th this year. Samhain, the Celtic celebration, was celebrated on Oct. 31st. On this night the Celts believed that the barrier between worlds thinned, and the living and the dead could dimly see and, sometimes, communicate 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 roots in the ancient Aztec culture.

Halloween (All Hallows’ Eve) starts the festivities for people in the Christian Church on the 31st. It’s the first of three days of observances. All Saints Day is November 1st when the saints are honored, and All Souls Day is on the 2nd when our loved ones are remembered.

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 observances that help you, and ignore the rest.

The flippant and commercial talk at Halloween can be brutal because it seems to trivialize death, and that is not what we’re feeling. And even though the costumes portray death, they do not spark any meaningful conversations. It’s okay if you don’t want to give out candy. It’s okay if you want to watch Netflix, or read a book where light confronts the darkness, like The Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter.

If you want to do something to honor your dead, there are a number of things you can do. You can create personal Rituals, like lighting candles every night. Or set up 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.

You can visit their graves or the places where their ashes were scattered, or do something that they liked, like going to the movies or hiking.


This year I include and honor two personal saints – Brian Doyle and William Bradley — who died this year.

Whatever you do, find a quiet place this week where you can remember your dead and honor their love. Listen for their presence.

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