MY PATERNAL GRANDPARENTS died days apart from each other two years before I was born. I never had the privilege of knowing them, though I am greatly honored to be connected with them. They were distinguished individuals of courage and accomplishment, and one day I must tell their story.
My Father loved them dearly, though he didn’t much like going to the North Cemetery to visit their graves, as the distance from our suburban home was tiring. I also think he found the destination rather morbid. The few times we did go there when I was a child, he would take me for a stroll among the jampacked tombstones. It was, to me, like exploring the city of the dead.
Of the tombs I saw I distinctly remember one shaped and detailed like the bow of a ship. It was so faithfully rendered, it was even equipped with lifesavers (which I thought ironic). I also recall how old and derelict so many of the graves were. These people had been dead so long, their descendants had died as well and there was no one left to tend their graves. That always saddened me. To die is everyone’s lot, but to be forgotten? To my child’s mind, there was no greater desolation.
My Mother, on the other hand, visits her parents’ graves yearly. She would take my brother and me with her when we were younger, on the eve of All Souls’ Day to avoid the traffic and to enjoy the night air. We would dutifully accompany her and help tidy up my Lolo’s gravestone (my Lola was still living then). After that there wasn’t much to do except play with the candle droppings and wait for my Mom to say it was time to go. To this day, I associate Undas with scorched fingers and big hot balls of wax.
I stopped going with my Mom as a pre-teen, mainly because I didn’t see the point of visiting a grave. Traditionalists told me I was visiting the dead, but I reasoned, the dead being dead, how could they benefit from it? My parents explained that it was vital for families not to forget their departed loved ones, and that for many, the act of visiting was an act of remembrance.
I appreciated that and have since respected the ritual, though I do not perform it myself. Nevertheless, I much prefer the local observance of Undas to the contrived celebration of Halloween that has rivaled it in past years. Undas makes sense to me and has some moral value; the gaudy extravagances of Halloween parties and “trick or treating” have nothing of reminiscence and respect for the dead: they are only another excuse for excess in borrowed western finery.
Halloween has so infiltrated (and I think, debased) our culture that one memorial park near us emblazoned on its gates an advertisement for a “Halloween party” during the Undas observation promising large prizes for those in best costume. What a vulgar display of foreign mimicry during what should be a time of solemn family solidarity. Can we not rise above this?
Well. I am giving all that a wide berth and staying home this weekend so as better to remember those who have left without me. Scripture tells me that Christ has defeated the grave, and in lives where Christ reigns, death has lost its sting. I need not light a candle to lead the souls of my loved ones home tonight, as superstition counsels, nor do I need to offer prayers for their release from a fiery halfway house. They were illuminated by the light of Jesus when they lived here with us, and I know fully well that now they live with Him, abundantly. Scripture says it; I believe it.
I remember Daddy and Annie and May and Paolo today, yes, but not just; I remember them every day with fervor and love and joy. I hear their voices and see their smiles; I recall their warmth and the feel of their hair; their laughter, the press of their hands against mine. I remember. And in that moment of remembrance, they live again, for me. Significantly, I understand in that moment that they live still.
I no longer grieve as much as I used to, but the memories bring tears as they always will. The empty bench, the missing place, the void – I fill them with remembrances. Therein my beloved are alive, and I find life in my confident knowledge of our future reunion. Until then, I will relish remembering. There is a shrine in my heart more sacred than a gravestone where a flame will burn bright in their memory evermore.
I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed – in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
– 1 Corinthians 15:50-57
Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in Him.
– 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14