Remembering the dead is a true celebration of life.

During the month of November we remember our loved ones who have passed from this life. Each of us has very personal memories of our loved ones and we remember them in our own way. We visit their graves and bring flowers. We mark their anniversaries with memorial Masses, dinners or celebrations.

Recently on a visit home for my parents anniversaries I was reminded of how each of us has our own memories and ways of dealing with loss. One of my sisters, Alice, had kept some personal clothes that belonged to my mother. Not to wear them but as a keepsake, a memento and a reminder of a loved one. My mother died on 7th November which also marked the birthday of Anne, another of my sisters. I’m sure that celebrating each birthday since my mother’s death has been a bitter sweet experience for Anne.

This year Anne will celebrate her 60th birthday and Alice has a special present for Anne – some teddy bears made from my mother’s clothes that Alice had kept. This will be a very personal present and it reminds us that we belong to a family/community that reaches beyond the grave and tells us that Love Never Ends.

One of my favour authors and poets is the late John O’ Donoghue who wrote a poem called “November Questions”.

“Where did you go
when your eyes closed
and you were cloaked
in the ancient cold?

How did we seem,
huddled around
the hospital bed?
Did we loom as
figures do in dream?

As your skin drained,
became vellum,
a splinter of whitethorn
from your battle with the bush
in the Seangharraí
stood out in your thumb.

Did your new feet
take you beyond,
to fields of Elysia,
or did you come back
along Caherbeanna mountain
where every rock
knows your step?

Did you have to go
to a place unknown?
Were there friendly faces
to welcome you, help you settle in?

Did you recognize anyone?
Did it take long
to lose
the web of scent,
the honey smell of old hay,
the whiff of wild mint
and the wet odour of the earth
you turned every spring?

Did sounds become
the bellow of cows
let into fresh winterage,
the purr of a stray breeze
over the Coillín,
the ring of the galvanized bucket
that fed the hens,
the clink of limestone
loose over a scailp
in the Ciorcán?

Did you miss
the delight of your gaze
at the end of a day’s work
over a black garden,
a new wall
or a field cleared of rock?

Have you someone there
that you can talk to,
someone who is drawn
to the life you carry?

With your new eyes
can you see from within?

Is it we who seem

– John O’ Donoghue

These are very personal memories and John asks his deceased Dad some very profound questions about the afterlife. His poem is an acknowledgment that death is a natural occurrence, nothing is permanent and things change.  In Celtic Tradition it was believed that the veil between this world and the afterlife is thinnest at this time of year. We get the sense from the poem that death has not completely broken the bond between father and son and that they are still close and united in love. On the other had it speaks of the impermanence of life. When we realise this it can be our motivation for living every day to the full. In the words of Mary Oliver, the poet:

“When it’s over, I want to say: all my life I was a bride married to amazement. I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.”

While we might not like to be reminded about death, we are conscious that time is slipping through our fingers but we should remember that “facing up to death means showing up for life”.

Death can be the motivation for us to be present to each day and live it to the full. November is an opportunity for us to acknowledge our personal losses but it also reminds us that we are not alone in our pain, that we are part of a community of faith that reaches beyond the grave and by our faith are linked in a love that never ends.