Today is Halloween and the kiddies will dress up and go out to trick-or-treat. So much of this holiday has developed from other traditions until what we are left with is a holiday about being spooky and getting sweets. Some celebrate the Day of the Dead, which stems from the Western Christian holidays of All Saints Day and All Souls Day. In fact, Halloween means All Hallows Eve or the eve of All Saints Day in the Western Church. At its center Halloween should cause us to pause and remember those who have left this physical world. We can set aside the spookiness of the day for just a moment and bring to mind those we love who are no longer with us and connect to the reason we have this holiday
Some of you might not know, this summer my family went through a wide variety of health crises which caused the hiatus for this blog. My family all seemed to be healing well, or at least dealing with the new normal as the case might be. Then my mother began to go downhill. She had stove so hard to regain her independence and we were all impressed with the amount of sheer will and determination she displayed recovering from her crisis. I was confused. Mom seemed to be doing well one week and the next she was losing her gains. Mom displayed disturbing symptoms so we made the rounds with the specialists on her list. Finally, we came to the blood guy. One thing led to another, and mom has a diagnosis of cancer.
I am right now in the process of getting my head around this. I have to admit I do not find this easy or fun. I have to look at the possibility this might be the last health crisis and I do not like that. I do not like that at all. We are still in the process of finding the source and have not come to any conclusion of treatment, so we are in an early stage. I will take this day by day and week to week. Right now, I am trying to get out of denial and into reality which is not my favourite thing to do when someone I love is hurting this bad. Be patient with me and this process. Know that one of my great joys is the writing of this blog, but also that my editor is not feeling well. If I take another break, know that I am facing difficult times, and I will be back when ready.
I recall two poignant conversations I had regarding pregnancy loss. The first conversation took place when I was in seminary; one of the community members had lost her child at full term. One of my fellow students, who was usually very kind and sensitive, did not understand how the community could reel from a loss of someone who had never drawn breath. I tried to explain it to him, but I am not sure he understood. He probably does now that he has had a full life of experiences to draw on. The second conversation occurred when I worked at a halfway house for women on parole. One of our clients lost a baby at full term. The loss rocked the house. One of my coworkers and I were discussing how pregnancy loss used to be like when we were younger. She spoke about her mother who had lost a child to miscarriage. She said her mother could not or did not feel she could grieve publicly. My coworker recalled how she would sometimes hear her mother weeping behind closed doors when her mother did not think anyone was around. She remembered how sad it would make her and how she never understood why her mother was weeping until she was much older.
October is designated as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month and internationally many countries designate October 15 as the specific day to remember those lost in pregnancy or as infants. We have come so far from the days when people did not feel that they could morn loss of someone so young. No longer do we need to feel that we do not have a right to morn a loss, and especially those who were lost at such a young age. Having said all this, I do think that we could move even further along the path of understanding. Perhaps, even if we do not personally understand this kind of loss, we could remember that we do not personally have to understand. We need only need to be there for those we know who are in pain, and let them grieve as they need to grieve.
The epitaph reads “I was once like you and one day you will be like me”, or words to that effect. This never ending truth of life and death fuels the fear so many of us have when looking at death. I would not say I fear death. In many ways I am comfortable speaking and writing about death, but when death comes close to home I no longer feel so comfortable. I do not like how death changes my relationships. I love the connection I feel with those I love, and when they die, I miss them so very much. This longing we have for those who are no longer living our lives with us, gives us pause for one day we know that those close to us will also one day miss us in the same way. Well, as least we hope they will.
I had a professor who would like to remind us from time to time by saying, “One day you will be as flat as the ground.” One could take this a few ways. Of course there are those who would not deal well with this statement. It might make them think that life was pointless and one day we would be no more. On the other hand one could take this to mean that we have but one life, and to do what we can with it, maybe by bringing life and joy to those who travel our life with us. Perhaps by embracing this idea we can make our life good today. Maybe if we have a well-organized mind we might realize that the actions of our life live on after us. Maybe we can take the best of what we have, and share it with those around us. Maybe by being who we are and sharing our joy we can plant a seed that can make life better for those who come after us. Yes, death comes for us all, but what are we doing with the life we have today, right now?
We entered October this week. I love the month of October with the changing of the leaves and the crisp feel in the air. We in the Midwest have started preparing for winter. Some of us put our gardens to bed. Many of us prepare for harvest and fall festivals. In my home, we will be having Canadian Thanksgiving this coming Monday. For me this signals the approaching winter in a big way. Winter is coming, but not yet. Because October has a transitional quality to it, it is a great time to begin or revisit our plans for our funeral and burial. One single most important thing we can do for planning our funeral and burial is to go out and shop our local funeral homes. 90.4% of consumers go with the first funeral home they go to. The industry knows this. Going out and shopping funeral homes might not be fun for most people, but you might be surprised once you start. If you shop out of curiosity, shopping a funeral home takes on a completely different tone than shopping out of need. When we shop out of need, we mostly want to get in and out as soon as possible. If we shop out of curiosity and with knowledge of our laws and rights, then we have the luxury of seeing how close to the law a funeral home adheres. Take the time this October, before the big time winter festivals start rolling in, and go out and shop your local area to see what resources you have available. Once you start, you might just be surprised at how interesting it becomes.