Today marks the last day of the triduum of Allhallowtide. All Souls to the RC kids, and Dias de los Muertos to many others. The Day of the Dead celebrations include visits to the cemetery and altars at home to honour ancestors and absent friends. In some communities, there are celebrations in the local graveyard that include picnics and candles and it’s a joyous occasion. I like those kinds of memorials – and the thing I appreciate most about how learned to mourn as I grew up is that if you stand by yourself in a funeral parlor, and observe what’s happening around you, there’s always laughter. Certainly, there’s sadness, but mourning should always be a celebration of life, too.
There are a few disparate but kind of related things I’ve been thinking about for All Souls.
Item the first: Since the Covid quarantines started in March, funeral services and celebrations of life have been vastly different than ever before. My family is very much a bunch of funeral crashers. If we know someone who is in mourning, we go to support that person. Doesn’t matter if we didn’t know the dearly departed. This year, it had to be condolences extended, but visits not made. My dad, aunt, and I went to one funeral where there was a list and a God Squad bouncer at the door of the church seeing if you were on the list to get in. Certainly, I was grateful to be on that list, to express grief and then support those whose grief was heavier than mine. There were other funerals for parents of friends that I couldn’t go to extend my sympathies, and that felt like I wasn’t doing my due diligence as a friend. I mean, I was, by staying away and extending my support over the social media where it was announced. But yeah, not the same.
Item the second: In past, I’ve written about how, for the last few years, my friend Darrell and I have placed flags at the headstones placed by Imperial War Graves Commission in local cemeteries. This year, we’re not visiting graves together because of the social distancing required by Covid. Perhaps I’ll go myself. I like cemeteries, and even more so a purposeful walk, looking to be thankful for the service of someone who might not have anyone to visit their grave anymore. It will be not only a good way for me to continue our tradition, but also to honour Darrell for both his military service and his service to his fallen brethren.
Item the third: My friend Martha had an uncle who died overseas. She had never met him (he died before she was born), and she is the last of her family to really even know his legacy. She had a box of his military paperwork, his death penny, an ID bracelet, and his medals. She didn’t know what to do with these items – she didn’t feel an attachment to them, but she also knew they weren’t just something she could, in good conscience, throw away. I gave her a few options about what she could do – return the items to his regiment (who I know have a museum), surrender the items to the Kitchener public library Soldier Cards project. In the end, my son expressed interest in the items, and I donated the enlistment papers and personal letters to a friend who is a curator at a small military museum.
The thing that ties these items is the act of celebrating the life of someone that you don’t know. Before Darrell and I started going to gravesites as part of the Bells of Peace project, Remembrance Day felt like a day of statistics – 61,000 Canadians died in WW1, 172,000 were wounded; One million Canadians fought in WW2, 45,400 died. They were shocking, horrifying numbers, but they were also almost all nameless, faceless. That seems to be less than they deserve. So before Darrell and I went out, I did some research about each of the service members we visited. I gave a short eulogy at the gravesite and Darrell stuck the flag in the ground. It felt more meaningful, more grateful to spend some time getting to know the casualties we visited. And I will miss that this year.
This year, as Remembrance day approaches, may we celebrate the lives of our veterans and ancestors, not just mourn their deaths.
1 year ago: Grave site Visits
2 years ago: Remembrance Project – Day 8: All Souls