By Leanne Willen
The dimmed lights of church guided me down the aisle to an empty seat. Soothing music played softly. Friendly faces offered tender smiles of support. The serenity before me should have filled my heart with peace. Instead, I sat in the pew reluctantly holding an unlit candle with my dad’s name on it.
Later, I was directed to the altar to light the candle and place it at the foot of the cross. The symbolism of the moment was not lost on me, but I was too deep in the trenches of grief to appreciate it. I stared up at Christ on the cross and refused to believe Christ was with me in my pain.
When I received the invitation to attend the All Souls’ Day Memorial Mass, I ripped it up and threw it in the trash. My dad had died suddenly and unexpectedly less than two months before and I was drowning in sorrow. I was angry and brokenhearted and so very lost. At the last minute, however, I decided to attend because the thought of no one being there for my dad was more painful than going.
As the service continued, I listened as brave mourners shared about their loved ones. I held hands and prayed with those around me. I was comforted by our priest’s compassionate and reassuring words. I was mesmerized by the altar filled with photos of the souls who had died, by the candles glowing for each one of them, and for the loved ones gathered to remember them.
Nothing extraordinary happened that All Souls’ Day, but in several tiny and subtle ways, it was the catalyst toward my healing. It forced me to face my dad’s death head on. It gave me permission to grieve deeply and openly.
As All Souls’ Day nears, I am preparing my heart and home for this beautifully solemn celebration. I will create a memorial with pictures, mementos, and candles to remember those closest to me who have died. I will keep it out for all of November and use it as an opportunity to share memories of my loved ones with my children.
I will visit the cemetery where my dad and other relatives are buried to pray for them and to remember them.
I will attend All Souls’ Day Mass to pray for the dead and to support those whose loved ones died this year.
I will do something to honor my dad’s memory like eat ice cream straight out of the carton, which will be both cathartic and commemorative.
I’m so grateful for my Catholic faith that embraces suffering and death and acknowledges it as part of life. I’m grateful for the consistency of the liturgical year so that every November I have the chance to remember, honor, and pray for my dad and all the other faithful departed. I’m grateful to be part of a community that leans in to support one another in times of suffering and loss.
I’m grateful for All Souls’ Day three years ago when Christ found a way into my troubled and broken heart through the love and kindness of those surrounding me, through the priest and his compassionate message, and through the soul-stirring rituals of the Catholic Church. I’m grateful that I’ve found enough healing to know that when I place my sorrow and pain at the foot of the cross, Christ is there with me.
Leanne Willen is a parishioner of St. Patrick Church.