We celebrated Halloween the way that so many do, by putting candles in the Jack-o-lantern and handing out candy. We also celebrated in less traditional ways, by sorting some of our books and our photos. We looked through the old religious books that came to us from various family members. Some we will keep; many others will go away. My spouse looked at photos, while I looked at other books for one last time before sending them to new homes.
In some ways, it was a perfect way to celebrate All Hallow's Eve. Most of us in the U.S., I'm guessing, celebrate Halloween and then it's on to Thanksgiving and Christmas. Some of us linger in the land of death a bit longer.
A few years ago, I came across a reference piece that talked about the triduum of Halloween, All Saints and All Souls. Triduum means "three days," but I've only ever heard of it used as the time period between Good Friday and Easter. It's so much easier to celebrate the Triduum of Halloween, All Saints, and All Souls, when it occurs on a week-end.
Today is the Feast of All Saints. Traditionally, this day celebrates the saints who have gone on before us. Traditionalists would only celebrate the lives of the truly beatified and the lives of those martyred for the faith; we'd celebrate the more recently dead tomorrow, with the Feast of All Souls. Many modern churches have expanded this feast day (or collapsed the 2 feast days) to become a day when we remember our dead.
Today at my church, we will celebrate the lives of those who have gone before us, and we will have a table with candles, where we can leave pictures of our loved ones who have died. For many years, indeed decades, I had only lost the ones one might expect: a grandparent who was elderly.
This year, I will bring this picture:
That's my best friend whom I first met in high school, who died in February of esophageal cancer. Her death has shaken me a bit, for so many reasons. I think of myself as a woman in the early years of midlife. Her death reminds me that I may not be so lucky as to have decades left. It also makes me fretful that although I may have many decades left, death may rob me of my companions on the journey.
I found out about her cancer in the month when I learned of the death of my favorite English professor from undergraduate school who launched me on this path of being and English teacher and administrator. I would likely not have gone to grad school had she not told me that I must. She died of a stroke in February of 2014.
Lately I feel surrounded by the deaths of friends who died too soon. I'm thinking of the department head who first hired me at the school where I work now. Like my favorite English teacher, she believed in me and let me create all sorts of Creative Writing classes. When it was clear that she would be moving to Virginia, she helped me to discern whether or not a move to administration was for me. And in 2012, after my job disappeared, and I successfully applied for my job in the new structure, she was the first to remind me that my brain had translated those events not just as success but as trauma, and she's the one who told me to rest awhile. She died in July of 2014 of a reoccurrence of brain cancer.
It's easy to get lost in grief these days. In addition to physical death, I'm thinking of so many friends and loved ones who are suffering from serious health issues. I'm thinking of relationships that have gone through significant changes. I'm thinking of children growing up.
But let us not linger in the land of grief too long. One reason why I love this Triduum of holidays is that it reminds us that life is short and that we'd better get on with the important work that we want to do.
Most days, we move in our modern culture that wants to deny death and aging. But I often think that this denial works to our detriment. I think of John Keats, as I often do, who wrote some of the best poems in all of British literature in the few years before he died in his 20's. He woke up every day, coughed up a bit of his lungs from the TB that he had contracted, and then got to work on his poetry. He only had encouragement from a few people, but he knew what he had to do--and having watched so many die of TB, he had that sense that he had not a minute to waste.
Let us be similarly inspired by these high festival days that are upon us.
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