Month of the dead is a time to remember loved ones

Cupped hands holding a lit tealight candle

Remembering the dead - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

It was one of those glorious late summer evenings where the whole earth seemed to bathe in a copper glow; a glow I wanted to immortalise in my mind because the chill of autumn was already faintly in the air.

I was sitting in a garden still beautifully in bloom with purple asters and red roses, setting like rust in the sunlight, talking to a lady whose husband had just died at the age of 96.

“We fell in love as teenagers,” she said, croakily but with an almost embarrassed smile. “I know I shouldn’t be upset as he lived such a long life but I just miss him, that’s all. We had been one person for so many years. I don’t know how to make it as a half.”
I hear these stories a lot. In a world of escalating divorce rates, we assume that the happy ever after is something out of fairytales whispered to wistful little girls, and yet tales of hearts that simply break after the death of a soulmate, are surprisingly many.

Very often, there is almost an apology for feeling so sad at the death. It is as if it is wrong to be devastated when the person who has died has had a long life. But, equally, if two people have spent their lives entwined, how can the remaining half feel anything other than overwhelming sorrow and loneliness?

Over time, bereavement changes and goes through many different stages from denial and guilt to acceptance and, eventually, hope.

The bereavement guide on Shoobridge Funeral Services website talks of these stages in detail. Under the ‘healing’ section, it says, rather beautifully: “An acceptance of death leads to adjustment, new confidence and the ability to cope. Memories become less painful and more precious. Life slowly becomes whole again, though never the same as it was before.”

We are closing in on November, the month of the dead. In the Christian liturgical calendar, November is entirely devoted to those who have died. We begin with All Saints’ Day (November 1) where we celebrate the saints, or more specifically the martyrs who were granted eternal life for their sacrifice. Then it’s All Souls’ Day (November 2), a day instituted by the Church for the living to pray for the souls of the departed.

Traditions associated with the feast include placing the names of those to be remembered on the altar at mass and visiting the cemeteries where dead loved ones lie. Exeter Cathedral will have its annual Requiem Eucharist, a moving service naming the dead on our hearts.

I’ve always liked the reflective time at the start of November but, this year, I’m going to mark the month of the dead more faithfully than in years gone by. I will have taken 68 funerals when we start the month and it is these 68 memorable people and their families that I will be remembering and praying for over the 30 days. And my prayer for the families – the lonely widows, the shocked parents, the devastated children – will be that, as they pass through their stages of grief, they come to value the memories they have built up, to cherish them and enjoy them as if they were still in them.

Say a prayer this month for all those who have gone before us and, if you can, visit their resting place. Let them have this sombre, darkening month with its leaden skies and trees flayed to bone, with the one ingredient which makes every life worth living and remembering: love.

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