Day of the Dead. Samhain. All Hallow’s Eve. Like many religious traditions, Unitarians remember our dead at this time of increasing darkness and chill, the season of endings. The harvest is in, the nights are deeper, winter is coming. This is a time of preparation which begins with marking the grief and sorrow of the past year. This year it felt particularly poignant with Hurricane Sandy’s week of storm and wind and danger. While the actual ritual of honouring our losses varies from congregation to congregation, there is usually a time in the service to light candles in honour of those we have lost and would remember. Each flickering flame represents the life spirit of a loved one, the combined glow reminding us that no one has a monopoly on loss. We hold one another’s grief in the warmth of our chalice community. While our formal ritual focuses on an expression of sorrow, our relationship with the dead is more complex.
This video from folk-rockers Delta Rae reminds us that joy – not just grief – is also part of remembering those we have loved and lost. From an interview in e USA Today, Ian Holljes, who wrote Dancing in the Graveyards, talks about losing a couple of close friends: “These people were wonderful parts of my life…. For me, they’re not resting in peace. They remain vivid, important influences in my life. They still move me, and, in so many ways, I’m still dancing with their spirits and the memories they left behind.”
We honour our dead not just with grief, but by telling their stories, remembering their influence, holding on to our memories. I like that Delta Rae shows us a graveyard as a place of welcome, a place where mourning can include joyful connection, if only in our imaginations. As the song says, all of us are meant for the fire, why not dance in joy?