An old friend of mine, living in Germany, described to me over the phone what had just happened in the village we had lived in together for some years: Folks gathered in the cemetery. Families had decorated the graves of their loved ones and ancestors, with flowers, mementos, and candles. The priest and acolytes processed to the cemetery from the parish church, accompanied by trumpets. At the cemetery, all the graves were blessed. As evening fell, the candles began to shine forth brightly. They illumined the cemetery through the night.
I have witnessed this scene many times, and I know what it means for my friend. Her mother is buried in this cemetery, so is her husband; so is her daughter who took her own life as a young woman. My friend knows that she herself does not have much longer to live, and that this will be her final resting place on earth. It is a good place. At the entrance to the cemetery is a gate with a plaque that reads: “Death is entrance to life.”
On this All Souls Day, I miss those comforting places that are shared (rather than private) where the veil between the living and the dead is so very thin; where we can remember together our beloved dead; and face – in community, prayer, song, and blessing – our own finitude.
I know of course that all across North America, this indeed is how the day of the dead is celebrated in Hispanic communities, and richly so. But why are there so many other communities that seem impoverished when it comes to remembering the beloved dead?