November is a time to remember and pray for family members, colleagues, neighbours and friends who have died since this time last year. Those who have gone before us, those who were so much present with us, so central to our lives, have left us with a deep sense of loss. We look for peace, for healing of heartache, and for hope. I live behind a graveyard, and witness how daily, so many loved ones visit their family grave. Finding peace and connection with loved ones who have passed is a deeply spiritual search.
This year is particularly difficult for those who have been bereaved since March. Those profound feelings of loss have been heightened by not being able to be present at a time of death and by the absence of the familiar family and community supports.
The lockdown and restrictions have impacted on how we say goodbye to our loved ones. Some sadly died without familiar faces around them, some left this life with the caring presence of hospital and nursing home staff and we are grateful to them. Familiar faces, consoling words and reminiscence are all important in our grieving process. Many have not had the traditional practices that help us; wakes, gatherings at home, reception of remains at the church and a funeral Mass with an unrestricted attendance. These experiences have added to the sense of loss
We have been without the normal free flowing schedule of Masses and sacraments for over seven months now. Our priests and parishioners have made great efforts to keep our churches open and safe and welcoming, for this we are very thankful. Although we have moved online, and on television, for Mass, it is not the same. In his message for World Mission Day 2020, Pope Francis writes;
‘Being forced to observe social distancing and to stay at home invites us to rediscover that we need social relationships as well as our communal relationship with God.
We long so much to be back in church, with the support of a gathering, and meaningful participation of being present with others, an expression of who we are and what we believe in. Our remembrance this November takes place at a time of continuing uncertainty, isolation and economic hardship. We take reassurance from the good practices learned in all areas of life about how to keep ourselves and others safe. Every day we should reassure our young people of our love and support and help them to nurture their God-given gifts.
We take reassurance from the determination of our political leaders to bring us through this pandemic as safely and as socially and economically resilient as possible. We take reassurance from our belief in a caring God who encourages us to make wise decisions for the common good and to look out for each other. Jesus’ call to ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ has taken on a new meaning in the current context of caring and of keeping safe
We have the reassurance of the Lord that all will be well and that He will strengthen our ability to lift ourselves and others with resolve and hope during this terrible time, resolve to do our very best to ensure maximum safety. Hope based in Jesus’ promise to be with us always ‘until the end of time’ (Matt 28:20). In his extraordinary Urbi et Orbi address of March 2020, Pope Francis said;
‘In the midst of isolation when we are suffering from a lack of tenderness and chances to meet up, and we experience the loss of so many things, let us once again listen to the proclamation that saves us: he is risen and is living by our side’
The risen Lord is with us.
During the month of November parishes will continue with their remembrance practices in so far as the restrictions allow, November lists, remembrance trees, candles and other local traditions. Many find connecting via parish web-cams comforting at this time. November, is not an easy time with darker days and colder weather, not to mention living in the midst of a pandemic. However hold onto hope. Hope in the light of Christ which is always brighter than any winter darkness. Hope in our shared experience, when winter comes, can spring be far behind?