November, a month to remember

Second Reading

RENEWAL OF LOVE Throughout the month of November, Christians remember especially those who shaped their lives by love.

Second Reading
Fr Kevin Hegarty

Winter has announced its arrival in storm and rain. In November nature comes to a standstill. The trees are bare. The flowers have faded. Grass growth has ceased. The lawnmowers are laid up. The lonely cries of the seabirds is the mood music of the month.
In the darkness of November mirroring the natural world, our thoughts turn towards death. In the Celtic tradition, Samhain was the time when the human and spirit worlds were in the closest proximity. In Christian liturgy the main focus is on the inevitability of death and the remembrance of deceased loved ones.
A wise old man once told me that it is as natural to die as to live. We have lost this understanding. From the moment that death threatens we hide it in hospitals and hospices, anywhere rather than in front of our eyes.
Have you noticed how it has become common place to avoid the ‘death’ word? We talk of people ‘passing’ as if the harsh reality of death can be smothered in a cosy euphemism. The psychiatrist Anthony Clare wrote, some years ago, that ‘death in the city’ means “a hurried trip to the undertaker, a pallid funeral, a hearse following a black limousine carrying the few relatives who have bothered to turn up, muzak in the crematorium, tea and sandwiches in the parlour, then back with a pint of desperation to the business of living.”
The traditional Irish wake allowed for a leisurely and meaningful reflection on death. It facilitated the beginning of the process of healing the pain of loss. The celebration of wakes has declined hugely, but the custom lingers on in parishes along the western seaboard.
As night falls, neighbours gather at the wake house, express the ritual words of sympathy and sit in solidarity with the bereaved family. Close relatives and neighbours often keep vigil until the following morning. The initial silence in the face of death gradually gives way to conversation as the personality of the deceased is seamlessly evoked in the shared stories of his or her life.
There are prayers and tears, but also some gentle laughter as funny incidents and foibles are recalled. The person, lying in the stillness of death along the wall of the sitting room, comes alive in spirit as the anecdotes accumulate. In remembrance, the seed of consolation is sown for the bereaved.
The Irish Times occasionally organises competitions to discover the best place to live in Ireland. It is unlikely to have a contest for Ireland’s favourite graveyard, but if it did Tarmoncarragh on the edge of the Mullet peninsula would be my choice.
It has been the final resting place for people of the Mullet community for several centuries, extending back to the early days of celtic christianity when there was a little monastery there. The graveyard looks on Eagle Island, whose lighthouse protects sailors from the dangers lurking in its treacherous waters.
For me the light is a symbol of a richer radiance – the light of the risen Christ casting a saving glow on the generations buried in this sacred place. Scattered around is the evidence of centuries of death; the sleek modern headstones; the rough-hewn Celtic crosses of poorer days; and most poignantly, the lichen-encrusted marking stones of the years when the community hovered between survival and starvation.
No one famous is buried in Tarmoncarragh. No one who made headlines in the history of the world. Those who rest there made more important headlines – headlines of love in the hearts of family, neighbours and friends. They are amongst the anonymous saints that the Christian Church honours on November 1 – the Feast of All Saints.
On that day, and throughout the month, Christians remember especially those who shaped their lives by love. Amongst those remembered are grandparents who had a special bond with their grandchildren; husbands, wives and partners who in their intimate love gave meaning to each others lives; parents who nourished, protected and treasured their children; people who inspired us; friends who shared our joys and sorrows. They were not perfect but, for the most part, their lives have tilted towards goodness. In remembrance there can be healing and a renewal of love.