Tuesday, November 2, 2010

All Souls Day Pilgrimage

We usually go a cemetery (one where some of our relatives are buried) on All Souls Day to pray for the dead. It's a beautiful old tradition that our family picked up about five years ago. I am sure some would consider it morbid. I myself thought, when I began to take the children, that it would be a good but somber act of piety and teaching moment.

I was surprised by how joyful the experience was, and has been ever since. We talk about death, yes, but we also talk about heaven, prayer, and God's love. We talk about our brothers and sisters who have gone before us. We see that they were human souls who walked this earth, who loved and were beloved. The children wander around, choosing people to pray for; we stand around that person's grave and pray for that person by name, all the people in this graveyard, and all the holy souls in Purgatory. They right flowers and ornaments that have fallen over. They collect scattered stems and deposit them in empty vases. They skip in the paths.

True, we have had some very solemn moments. They often asked me to read the engravings on the tombstones. Sometimes we did the math to find out the age of a grave's occupant. Some of the graves were quite small. Here was some disquieting new information for my younger kids to assimilate, particularly the more sensitive ones (I have a few). It strikes me, though, looking back, as a much better introduction to the idea that all of us die than some other possibilities. The situation of a dear friend or cousin dying from illness or accident would be so traumatic. And I have one child who, if started on the abstract thought that sometimes children die, would agonize over the possibility that very soon it would be her or one of her siblings. Encountering an unknown dead child's tomb, oddly enough, seems to be less threatening.The trauma of dealing with a very personal loss is not there. It is a concrete matter of fact--it has happened, and is done; and there is only to pray for this person and look forward to meeting him or her in heaven.

And this is the biggest lesson of the day for me; how much they have already absorbed about our purpose and hope here in this world. Being in the cemetery reminds me and teaches my children that we all will die one day; but it will be a going home to God. We walk amid shadows of death and turn to the light. All Souls Day teaches us about Easter.

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