Death is so much a part of life: it touches everyone. The shock, the finality, the numbness is just heart wrenching. To compound this emptiness it always seems as if it’s our saints are taken while the sinners remain…. But the fault of that perception is that our scoundral is probably someone else’s hero, just as loved and embraced for all their failings.
November’s All Souls Day was always a special day in 32. The “List of the Dead” was prepared in the days before and ‘enveloped’ with a church offering: names and dates coming from a trove of Memorial Cards. The closest and most treasured of the cards were carried in Mam’s Prayer Book to be remembered way more often that just once a year. Faith converted these loved ones from being “gone” to being transformed in love. They were people who had coloured our lives: parents, grandparents, children, relatives and friends. Communing with them brought a peace, lifted our pain and allowed them to continue as part of our lives. It transformed the sainthood that initial loss bestowed on them to an understanding of the realities of their lives. We could now remember indiscretions without judgment or guilt and fondly acknowledge that no one is totally saint or sinner.
Other times are also part of the ritual of remembering – the annual cemetery mass, lights on the Hospice Christmas Tree, anniversaries and birthdays.
Memory cards in my house now are stored in a box including Mam’s trove of cards – prayer books are out of vogue now. (It’s hard to imagine a time when they were given as presents – Mam got one from her brothers and sisters for her sixteenth birthday!)
Around the beginning of October, now, I open the box and read through the cards, the rhymes and prayers that were so significant, look at the photos that were so carefully chosen. I add the “new” names to the “Dead List” saved on my PC, then print and send to the local sacristy that they might be remembered a little more publicly, displayed in the church porch around the anniversary time.
Not all loss is caused by death and over the years I’ve seen much grief caused just by someone’s departure. Very soon (maybe too soon) after Shay’s death someone told me that loss through death was not the hardest to bear and I found that difficult to understand. Now all these years later maybe it’s true. Emerson coined the words: “Of all the ways to lose a person, death is the kindest.” And maybe that’s because there is a ritual around it? Other separations just happen and are often unacknowledged.