Remembering the dead with our white stones

 

Outside the dark, noisy café, a woman sat on the pavement.

‘You’ve caught the sun,’ I said, as I stopped to talk.

 

‘Yes’, ‘it’s sweet autumn’, she said.
I agreed. ‘These fine days feel as if they could last forever.’
‘But they won’t, the woman said, balancing her lunch dish on her knee, ‘and that’s why it’s sweet. Because it’s about to change.’

As I walked on, through the flickering sun and shade of the tree-lined streets, I reflected on her words.

 

Crossing over

Soon, very soon, these mellow days will have passed into the chill of the dying season. Southern hemisphere Samhain/Halloween, the threshold to winter, is almost here.

It’s a poignant threshold, and one that invokes remembrance for me—not just of the sweet times, the extended swims and evening walks, but also of friends and family who have left this world of the living.

 

 

For April 30 is the night of the dead, a time to remember those dear ones, as we cross into the darkest season and the cold begins to bite.

How do you feel about this crossing? What remembrance comes up for you?

 

A ritual of remembrance

On April 30, or a day or two either side, you may like to honour your loved ones who have died, by lighting a candle and placing a stone for each of them around the flame. (Or you could write each name on a piece of card.)

Our family gathered a few days early to celebrate Samhain/Halloween. I asked my granddaughter (7) to gather dying things from the garden, and you’ll see them in the header photo above: pieces of dead wood, leaves, twigs and stems in various states of decay.

I brought fallen pohutukawa leaves. I love the way they turn red in this season, and how that red reminds me of the summer glory of the pohutukawa’s flowering. Remembrance, again.

 

 

I also brought rosemary to sprinkle around on the black cloth, because Shakespeare’s evocative words—‘There’s rosemary, for remembrance’—are always with me when I see this herb. (The words are spoken by grief-stricken Ophelia in ‘Hamlet’.)

In the centre, I lit a beeswax candle. It contains the memory of summer flowering, and its scent filled the room.

I love the festival of Samhain because of the way it makes space for our grief and our remembering. Children and adults alike can name our losses, whether of pets, relatives, friends or famous people who have inspired us, and to know that death and grieving are part of life.

When we gathered as a family, we took turns to pick up a white stone from a tray, and place each stone on the altar to represent someone who has died: the little one’s great grandmother, my parents, a baby daughter, Prince . . .

 

 

Bringing simple rituals into family life is so satisfying. Maybe you have found this too? I would love to hear about your ceremonies.

Blessings to you all, including our northern hemisphere friends who are in the season of high spring. Even as we in the south feel our plunge into winter, we know that the green season is also alive and well, and will come again.

 

The dead are always looking down on us, they say
while we are putting on our shoes or making a sandwich,
they are looking down through the glass bottom boats of heaven
as they row themselves slowly through eternity.

—Billy Collins

This post is an excerpt from the Seasons Newsletter. If you would like to receive the Newsletter in your in box, you may sign up on the Home Page of this website and receive a free audio meditation.