In the time of their visitation they shall shine, and shall dart about as sparks through stubble.
On a crisp April morning the kitchen was as crowded as the living room. People gathered close, sitting in twos or threes on the stairs with paper plates balanced on their knees, or pressed together on chairs tucked in next to the couch. The dining room table held a mix of tasty offerings tucked around an ample deli tray. Small children wove in and out among adult legs. The smack of the screen door out back and a temporary rise and fall in volume signaled the arrival of another friend or family member. Though some were only meeting for the first time, all were glad to be together sharing fond memories of Sara.
As I recall that day, over 12 years ago now, I see Rich standing by the sideboard with their ten-month-old daughter in his arms. A rainbow of tulips surrounds photos of Sara, capturing important milestones and simple everyday moments. In the peaceful quiet that enveloped us Rich shared gratitude for his life with Sara and the support they received during her illness. Then the lights flickered. Knowing smiles and gentle laughter broke the silence. We recognized Sara’s desire for us to know she was with us. She never liked to miss a good party. I continue to be grateful for the many gifts I received in saying yes to their invitation to accompany them in the last months of her life and the first months after her death.
I think of Sara and others with bittersweet joy when I hear Carrie Newcomer’s, Gathering of Spirits. In the second verse, she sings, “Some glow like embers / Like a light through colored glass / Some give it all in one great flame / Throwing kisses as they pass”. When it pops up in my playlist, I join in on the refrain with both a smile and tears:
Let it go my love my truest,
Let it sail on silver wings
Life’s a twinkling that’s for certain,
But it’s such a fine thing
There’s a gathering of spirits
There’s a festival of friends
And we’ll take up where we left off
When we all meet again.
The Catholic Church celebrates All Souls Day on November 2nd. Following just after All Saints Day, All Souls is an opportunity to take time to mourn and to rejoice, to remember our “holy ones”, family members, friends, and other people we loved and admired, even those who challenged us, who have departed this world for the next.
Memories of our loved ones arriving through our senses are ready made for prayer. St. Ignatius recommends returning to scripture scenes in imaginative prayer to savor the moments through engaging our senses. In a similar way, when a sight or sound, smell or taste sparks our memory, we can take those commonplace experiences into prayer to see and to hear from our loved ones and from God, reminding us of gifts we’ve received.
- The smell of automotive paint mingled with fresh cut boards places me with Grandad working on projects in his cool garage on a hot day, surrounding me with peace.
- The crunch and chew, savory sweetness of Aunt Mary’s gingerbread cookies reminds me of her spicy teasing, and also her acceptance when my teenage angst needed an outlet.
- Hearing the 1812 Overture played during an Independence Day concert takes me back to a cool damp picnic blanket watching and hearing fireworks and church bells exploding around a New England town square, recalling Bob’s heart for his family and community.
- A jumble of brightly colored jigsaw puzzles fills me with gratitude for Don, experiencing his loving presence and comfortable companionship even when we couldn’t have deep conversations anymore.
During the invitation to prayer at Catholic vigil services held prior to a funeral mourners hear, “We believe that all the ties of friendship and affection which knit us as one throughout our lives do not unravel with death.” Our beloved continue to offer messages of encouragement, healing, and abiding presence, sparkling at the edge of our awareness to catch our attention. I invite you to take time to notice when something sparks your memory, pausing to revisit that experience using all your senses. Have a heart-to-heart conversation in prayer with the one who has reached out to get your attention, or simply enjoy their company. All Souls Day celebrates this communion with those we love, promising “we’ll take up where we left off when we all meet again.”
- Using our senses is a very Ignatian approach to prayer. In her 2018 “Thinking Faith” article, Making Sense of the Application of the Senses, Gemma Simmonds, C.J., notes, “Ignatius remarks that it is not complex thinking and theological speculating that will bring about a change in us but ‘sensing and tasting things interiorly’ (Sp Exx §2): looking, listening, savouring, relishing and embracing what we contemplate.”
- Many churches, inspired by the Mexican Día de los Muertos tradition, invite the community to bring photos of their dearly departed, and to place them around the sanctuary or baptismal font. We are visually reminded throughout November, the last month of the liturgical year, that in this communion of saints “we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses” who remain close to us always.
- In Uniquely Created: The Miracle of Faith, Faye Coorpender recounts the memory of Sr. Julie and the profound impact their friendship had on her professional and spiritual life, including a gift of faith.
Pray with this guided reflection on a loved one who has passed away from our Into the Deep writer, Vinita Wright.
Photo by Julie Crea Dunbar