The Night of All Souls (November 2) rapidly approaches. Often associated with Catholic Latin American countries All Souls is increasingly woven into the fabric of the broader community, particularly here in multi-cultural Vancouver. In our death-den ying culture, how wonderful it is to have permission to publicly acknowledge the presence of death in our lives.
In many local cemeteries you will see food arranged at gravesites, drinks poured, gifts offered, and notes left. Mountain View Cemetery, for instance, hosts A Night for All Souls (Oct 29 – Nov 2) with installations by local artists and participatory rituals that invite the public to honour their dead with candles, shrines, flowers, and the sweeping and decorating of graves. There are many ways to express our hearts to the dead.
As anyone who lives near a cemetery or drives along a busy highway can tell you, our desire to remember and communicate with those who have passed away happens not just on the Night of All Souls but all year round too. Such memorials take many forms–wreaths, bouquets of flowers, small items the deceased person enjoyed while they were alive, or notes and photos encased in plastic sleeves. Sometimes one comes across a pile of small stones at a gravesite. Leaving a pebble or stone was/is a Jewish custom symbolic of lasting connection and one more enduring than flowers. To see a number of pebbles on a grave helps mourners not to feel so alone in their sadness, for the stones are distinct evidence of other visitors.
Here is an idea for an equally organic offering. Lay a sprig or bouquet of fresh rosemary branches on a grave. Rosemary is known as the herb of remembrance, having been thrown into graves by mourners in the middle ages, but was also carried in bridal bouquets. Some brides still do so today.
On All Souls Eve or on any day of the year, cemeteries are wonderful places to reflect on the beauty, the strength and the fragility of the human life. And the way we interact within them is a testament to our desire and capacity to remember those we love.
With conscious appreciation, Celebrant Michele Davidson