I love Hallowe’en. LOVE it. And it’s kind of poignant for m purposes because the three days of Hallowe’en, All Saints’ Day, and All Souls’ day are about remembering and honouring the dead. So here we go.
Hallowe’en isn’t a no-holds-barred sugar romp in most places the way it is in North America. In most places, it’s still a celebration of the lives of ancestors – still full of treats and laughs, the way good celebrations of life should be. When someone in my family passes on, sure, there’s grief and mourning, but there’s always laughter at the viewing and the wake too. When someone says the deceased wouldn’t want a somber and serious affair to send them off. Truly, the jazz funeral in New Orleans have figured it out. Wear your mourning cloak, but dance to the brass band on the way to lay the deceased to their final rest. That’s the epitome of celebrating someone’s life as much as mourning their death.
I recently read a Dear Prudence article on the Slate website wherein the letter writer’s great-aunt has requested that family members hand out party hats and instruct people to wear bright clothes to her funeral. She wanted people to throw confetti on her casket instead of flowers., and she wanted a party to celebrate her passing. Thing was, the great-aunt’s family was (mostly) horrified at the idea, and are threatening to boycott if they don’t (against Great-Aunt’s wishes) have a more subdued, darker-adorned event. Prudence’s advice was that even though Great Aunt might want a fun funeral, she “can’t imagine anything that would take the jollity out of her event faster than forcing a bunch of old, sad people sitting pews to wear party hats. She goes on to suggest that they try to honour the spirit of the request, if not the actual instructions.
And I thought that the family must not understand their Great Aunt at all. You don’t suddenly decide that you want a rager at your funeral if you’ve lived a life with plastic-covered furniture in your living room that no one’s allowed to sit on. I understand the compulsion that the death of a beloved family member can inspire. You want to wear black to mourn because the world feels dimmer without them in it. But the part it’s hard to see is that it seems dimmer because of the colour and light that they brought. Celebrate that part.
There’s a weird thing that seems to be happening with people’s removal from death. Viewing no longer happens in the family home; children don’t attend funerals that might upset them. Just don’t talk about it, protect them from uncomfortable feelings, surely that won’t come back to bite you in the ass later. *sigh *
The thing is, that makes it hard to know how to celebrate a life, when death is a taboo that feels scary. So sure, it’s easy to relegate Hallowe’en to trick-or-treating and inflatable lawn ornaments. For my Hallow’s eve, I’m going to light a candle for my family long departed, and I’m also going to hand out candy to small children in adorable costumes.
And to tie it back in to the Remembrance Project, my reflection is thusly: I will remember that the way someone died is not the definition of their life. As we commemorate those who paid the ultimate price, may the death they died always be secondary to the life they lived.
Check out past years reflections! Click Reflection Projects > Remembrance Projects.