I always find the transition from October to November a bit jarring. One day, I’m surrounded by gruesome or scandalous costumes, more sugar than anyone should ever have, and a trivialization of gore, violence, and death. And the next two days, I’m respectfully remembering all those who have passed away and commending them to God. At times, this switch can feel extremely contradictory and confusing.
Halloween and All Saints day and All Souls day may be united by their connection to death but Halloween trivializes death, making it seem distant and outlandish while All Saints day and All Souls days brings death very close to home, tying me to all those who have come before and especially evoking memories of those I personally knew who have died. Halloween may be the most overt display of death as streets abound with zombies, vampires, and other gory characters, but the two days following are what make death feel real to me.
In the choir anthem this morning, we sang a beautiful piece by Tarik O’Regan entitled “We Remember Them”. The music itself is beautiful, full of rich choral chords that follow a simple, haunting soprano solo. But the words were what really hit me this morning: “In the rising of the sun and in its going down, we remember them. In the blowing of the wind and in the chill of winter we remember them. In the opening of buds and in the rebirth of spring, we remember them. In the blueness of the sky and in the warmth of summer, we remember them. In the rustling of leaves and in the beauty of autumn, we remember them. When we’re weary and in need of strength, we remember them. When we’re lost and sick at heart, we remember them. So long as we live, they too shall live, for they are now a part of us, as we remember them.”
These words remind me of how much our lives are shaped by those who have died—we see them in all seasons, in the sun and the flowers and the leaves. But remembering those who have died does not drag us down into depression, it lifts us up and gives us strength, it shows us the way when we’re lost, it comforts us. These words remind me that the point of All Saints Day or All Souls Day is not to commiserate over and mourn those we have lost, but to rejoice in the fact that we shared life with these people and to remember everything that they taught us and everything that they meant to us. The most powerful words in this piece for me are the last ones: “So long as we live, they too shall live, for they are now a part of us, as we remember them”. These words give me such comfort—it helps me move away from our society’s idea of death as this great gaping hole that sucks us all in, destroying everything we’ve done and separating us from the people we love. The people I love who have died are not gone—they are still with me because, in remembering them, I bring them to life. Each of us carries our loved ones around in our hearts and they help shape who we are.
That’s why I need these two days after Halloween—they remind me that death does not have to mean blood and gore and creeping shadows in the night. They remind me that death unites us all, that we are surrounded by those who have gone before us, that they give us strength and direction. They remind me that death is only a stepping-stone to life and that, while I still miss my grandfather, I also carry him around with me all the time. These two days remind me that the fact that someone has died does not mean their life stopped. Because as long as we live, they live too—they are a part of us and we remember them always.