Halloween is a night of pseudo ghouls, ghosts and goblins. I turn off the light on the porch to signal there’s no candy on offer, no costume-clad hostess at the door and no need to parade up my drive way. I wait for the night to become quiet again so I can enjoy the soft glow of moon in peace.
In the wake of Halloween comes All Saint’s Day, and like the morning light streaming through my bedroom window comes a flood of blazing memories stirring me from sleep. Rise and shine they say.
These saints call me to remember their earthly journeys and years of faithful living. Even their struggles bear witness to their true humanity and resilience. In the end, it’s their faith I remember. Madeleine L’Engle’s ability to marry art and faith, Mother Teresa battling her own doubt and still giving dignity to the dying, Wangari Maathai resisting the powerful and empowering the women of Kenya to plant trees – they each nourish and challenge me.
All the saints. All the saints. All the saints. Today this phrase returned to me time and time again like the incessant waves of the Pacific. Yes, I said on the inhale, all the saints I breathed on the exhale. All of them. It was as if I’d accepted some kind of challenge.
Then I remembered something from long ago – All Soul’s Day. There is a day to remember all the souls who’ve departed, saintly or not. There is a time to mourn losses that are still tender with pain as we write the names of the ones lost this year in the book of the dead. Far from being morose, it is another space for lament. We come together and say we are still bent with the heaviness of loss and cry sad, salted tears when an everyday occurrence brings our loved ones to mind. It’s a recognition that death walks away slowly.
Each soul departed deserves remembering. All the bereaved mothers and their kin need a place to grieve. As a community we create room for the waves of loss that continue to come to those who mourn, we say that your suffering is safe with us.
All Soul’s Day reminds us that sadness lingers long after the funeral, long after the last casserole dish is washed and returned. It doesn’t matter that all his clothes have been boxed and donated to the Good Will and the death certificate arrived by mail weeks ago or that no more mail appears in the mailbox with his name on it anymore. Hurt throbs anyways. He is the phantom limb, gone but still present to us, a sadness we cannot amputate.
This day the entire community gathers to remember how the pain ebbs slow like molasses. Maybe we, as much as the bereaved, need to remember the departed ones. We see grief out in the open space of the sanctuary and know our work of consoling is not done. The fresh imperative rings out from the gospel – mourn with those who (still) mourn. Do not allow grief to be invisible and unattended.
Maybe it’s time to bring another casserole – and bring it to the door warm so you can sit and share the meal together. Listen to the memories and see how they’ve not faded. Talk about what’s lost, how ‘normal’ is one casualty for sure. Discern together if it’s time to consider what’s next. And if not, if it’s still too soon, then meet for coffee and continue to be present. Tend to the soul still living.
I write out one name this All Soul’s Day – Michael Brown. His soul mattered, it still does. His exit from this world was messy and violent and all too public. His death forced us to see things we did not want to see in our selves and our communities. His death cracked open a community and a conversation.
But I cannot forget how his death broke the heart of his family and how his friends must miss him every day. How this loss is still so personal, so primal for the mother who birthed him. I remember her today. I consider the ache she must feel. I hope comfort comes to her, that compassion seeks her out in ways that will be a healing balm to her soul.
And there are so many other brown boys and brown men lost this year. I think of their mothers walking, weak-kneed, to the altar. I imagine each mother writing the name of each son in the book of the dead. I can almost hear the weeping that comes with the remembering. I pray for strong communities to surround them, souls to sing the mothers back to life.
Today I remember all the saints, all the souls, departed. I remember all the souls who remain, those who still carry grief. May the dead rest in peace and may the living be restless until justice rolls down like a mighty flood.
As one who joined the community of grievers 10 years ago when my fiance died suddenly: Thank you so much for this. The call for non-bereaved to remember the souls departed and those left behind: oh my goodness, yes. And to BE with them and listen to them and mourn with them: Yes, Yes, and YES. Early on, the times that touched me the most were when people did exactly that—sat with me, listened to me tell the story, and especially when people cried with me.
So often grievers experience the dropping away of friends from their lives, people who, though they were close to the griever before the loss, are uncomfortable being around such sadness and/or don’t know what to do or say and so they stop showing up. Our society/culture doesn’t help—it expects grievers to be done with it in a few days (when it comes to work, anyway), a few weeks, a few months, a year. Many people don’t realize that when grief comes, it comes to stay. It gets easier to live with with time (and lots of it), but it doesn’t ever completely go away. And when people stop showing up (in my experience and observation, a couple of months after the funeral at most), and when the shock wears off (which can be right around the same time!), it makes it even worse. So one more time: Thank you for calling on the non-bereaved among us to care for the bereaved. Well done.
P.S. Just so you know…you mentioned “no more mail appears in the mailbox with his name on it anymore.” Unfortunately that is not true. It doesn’t happen to me because sadly my fiance and I never got to live together, but many widowed people (and probably others who lived with the departed one) receive mail addressed to that person, sometimes several years after the fact.
Connie, I wish we were more aware of how to lament together, to hold the space for grieving together so that the bereft were not left alone in the waves of sadness that keep coming. I hope there will be a place for your grieving today, and friends who will come close and listen. You will be in my prayers today.
(And I’ve heard from friends that it hurts when the mail does come addressed to their loved one – and when it doesn’t. Seems to be a sword that cuts both ways, reminding us of who is not here and moving on as if they never were here in turn. So hard.)
Ah, I hear you; that makes sense.
I wouldn’t say I’m specifically grieving today or most of the time in general at this point. But of course, it can rear its head at any time. Thanks again. xo
This is so beautiful and necessary Kelley. I appreciate your insight and wisdom and desire to sit with those that grieve. So important, so needed. These words matter.
Oh my, yes. We’re not very good at this part, are we? This is a lovely, lyrical lament, Kelley. Thank you for it.