Every Wednesday

Every other Wednesday, I will post a reflection on the entire landscape of grief. This blog isn't just for widowers. It's for everyone who grieves. I want to encourage people to share their stories and compassion with each other, build up a community of support, and help those who have never grieved understand the trauma that death brings.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Holy (Death) Saturday

Last Saturday I was online with sixty grieving friends who live around the world, and I realized that this day, Holy Saturday, is where grieving people live. Grievers are Saturday people, my friend Megan says.

            For people who have recently lost a spouse, a child or a parent, they exist in this nether world between death and life for a year, unable to let go of one and unable to embrace the other. If they are Christians, they may not even be able to feel the joy of Easter Sunday this year. 

            Leading up to Easter Sunday, one of the things that Christians like to do is recreate the events of holy week so that they can experience those events as if they had been there. This is an old tradition and it holds wisdom, because if we can imagine ourselves in those events, then they become real to us. People in the Jewish tradition do the same for Passover with the Seder meal.

            I grew up in the Christian Church, but I don’t recall us doing anything on Holy Saturday. Saturday was a day of waiting, a day of preparing, cleaning and shopping so that we would be ready for the celebration and meal on Sunday.

            For Christians today, it’s hard to suspend knowledge of the resurrection and dwell in the despair of death that permeates every hour of Saturday. We may feel sad, but nothing like the grief of the followers back then who were in shock and despair, who felt that their dream had suddenly been taken away. Those who are grieving know exactly how they felt.

            I don’t blame people. Unless you have experienced grief, you really can’t imagine yourself into this place, no matter how hard you try.

            What if all of us acted like we were grieving and wore black clothes, and put black wreaths on our doors to let people know we were grieving, like they did a century ago when a family member died. What if we wore ashes on our foreheads again? There is probably some forgotten tradition for doing this. It would be a ritual that we could do to draw us closer.

            Rituals have a power within them to transform the mundane surface of reality into something that we can experience on different levels.

            Here’s an more radical thought. If we have not experienced grief, why don’t we spend a few hours next year on Holy Saturday and listen to someone who is grieving so that we do understand? Then we will appreciate more the good news that comes on Sunday.

            This year, the Jewish Passover also fell on Holy Saturday. This celebration remembers when the Spirit passed over the houses that had the sign of blood on their doorposts and killed the firstborn of the rest. At a moment’s notice, the Israelites had to leave their homes, the only place they had known, to go live in the desert. In the Seder meal, it is a tradition to leave an empty place for one who has died. In this case, Elijah. For those who lost a family member this year, that empty place can also stand for them. 

            On the Buddhist calendar, Saturday was the New Year in the Therevadin tradition. On the Hindu calendar, it was the last day of the nine-day Rama Navami holiday celebrating the birth of Ram.

            On nature’s calendar, the Spring Equinox a few weeks ago marked the death of winter and the birth of spring. Here the Greeks celebrated the mythology of Persephone. The turning of the earth encourages plants rise from the soil. On Saturday, the yellow blossoms on the forsythia in my backyard began to emerge. 

            No matter what religious tradition you follow, or if you follow nature’s calendar more closely, all around us are images of death, grief, rebirth, and renewal. Connect to what brings you new life.


  1. I have recently become a widow and discovered another link between Holy Saturday and grief, which I just wrote a blog post about tonight. In the Orthodox tradition we do dress in black for all the services of Holy Friday, but on the next day we think about how Christ is busy delivering souls from Hell, so it's the beginning of our Easter celebration. (And this year our remembrance of the Resurrection is a week later than the western churches.)

    I'm looking forward to browsing here some more now that this topic has become is my intense experience. Thank you for writing.

    1. Gretchen, I'm sorry about your loss. Easter must have been hard, feeling the close presence of death and separation from one you loved. Thank you for sharing this! I love hearing about the traditions of other religious communities.

  2. Gretchen, thank you for sharing this! I love hearing about the traditions of other religious communities.