As a secular holiday, Halloween dominates the end of October and first days of November. But in the Christian year, we remember the Church’s saints and martyrs on November 1; this is All Saints Day. And we commemorate all the faithful departed on November 2 (If that date falls on Sunday, we move All Souls to November 3.); this is All Souls Day. In emotional terms, it’s easy to roll both days into one, because both honor Christians who have gone before us.
But how do we actually honor those who have died? To an extent, they are honored in Church liturgies and various prayers. But what if you don’t attend church that day? What can you and I do—during this first week of November—to show some connection with this invisible and vast community? I offer three suggestions, and I hope you readers will post some ideas of your own.
Tell a story about the faithful departed. If you don’t have the opportunity to sit down in the living room or around the dinner table and talk about Grandpa or Aunt Jude, then write a little anecdote about the person and send it off in an e-mail to a few people who will appreciate it.
Put out photos and other mementos—leave them in a prominent place all week. What a great way to stimulate comments and questions from other people who see the photo or news article or jewelry or bits of fishing gear. This can be especially meaningful to children who barely remember the person, or who perhaps never met him or her. By keeping some articles of remembrance, we say that this person is still part of our lives and that those memories are important and belong to the whole family. Don’t be surprised if this physical memorial leads to storytelling.
Visit a place or do an activity associated with that person. The day I received news that my grandmother had died, I finished my workday and then stopped at a coffee shop on the way home. (In another day or so I would travel two states away to her wake and funeral.) I lingered over a pot of tea and a sweet because, since early childhood, I had shared many pots of tea with Grandmother. I knew she would approve, and in a way, I hoped she was there with me. To honor a departed loved one, we can visit a place that was special to that person: a particular park or river or restaurant. We can do something that was always made special by our loved one’s presence: go to a ballgame, make a special meal, watch a favorite movie. It can become even more meaningful if we do these things with other people who knew and loved this person. The entire event then becomes a tribute.
How do you honor loved ones who have gone ahead? Please post your thoughts.