So It Goes

Reflections on Shuffle-Play

All Saints Sunday is celebrated on the closest Sunday on or after All Saints Day, November 1st. It is a day to remember all the Saints, known and unknown. November 2nd is All Souls day, a day to remember those who have died. Christian celebration of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day stems from a belief that there is a powerful spiritual bond between those in heaven and those still on earth. In many congregations, the names of those members of the congregation who have died in the last year are lifted up. In my church this Sunday, we’ll have a chance to light candles in memory of loved ones who have died. During the communion portion of the service, congregants can visit tables on either side of the sanctuary which have large bowls of sand and baskets of candles. They can light as many candles as they wish and then those candles will then burn for the rest of the service as we remember those lives and way we are mystically knit together still beyond time and space.

It’s important to take time for remembering in ways such as this.  There has to be time set aside to honor those relationships God gave us even though we can’t see or talk to one another in the same way anymore. There simply must be a space we can allow to keep remembering – because our need for remembering doesn’t end when the last breath is taken or when the memorial service is over or when the grave has been filled in or when the ashes have been spread. Grief goes on and our need to remember goes on. All Saints Sunday is a beautiful time to do that.

I came across a quote recently that has stuck with me. It reads, “Grief, I’ve learned, is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give but cannot. All of that unspent love gathers up in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and in that hollow part of your chest. Grief is just love with no place to go.” I couldn’t find the author of that, but I thought it was beautiful, because that’s how grief feels, doesn’t it? Just because these people we love come to the end of their days, our love for them doesn’t. And yet suddenly they aren’t around to share those day to day things – the phone calls, the “Hey, did I tell you about this thing I was thinking about?,” the tiny and medium and huge thoughts that make up our days and weeks and months – we don’t get to share them in the same way anymore. And it’s deeply painful to still feel so much love inside but not be able to share it with the person you love. Grief hurts.

Grieving is necessary and there is no right or wrong way to do it. Some need to cry and wallow for a while, some need to stay busy and distracted, some find great meaning in creating a legacy in memory of their loved ones. Friends of mine in Texas whose son died at the age of 17 from the flu in 2014 created a scholarship in memory of their son. Their grief continues, but they are comforted that their son’s name accompanies this scholarship which continues to help other young people.

There are so many ways to honor our important relationships even after death. I recall the story from last year during the World Series when a man traveled 600 miles, from North Carolina to Chicago, to listen to the last World Series game at his father’s graveside. His father had been a lifelong Cubs fan and would always listen to games with his sons. They promised each other that when the cubs won the World Series, no matter when, they would listen to the game together.

Any of us who have lost someone with whom we still had unfinished business, unfinished activities we wanted to do together, we understand this thing he did. So often we look for ways to still feel connected to those who have died – we remember them when it’s time to bake the Christmas cookies, when you go out to eat at the place where you used to meet and talk, when that birthday or anniversary comes and goes.

At the school where my children attend, every year they celebrate a “Grandparents Day” when grandparents are invited to come to the school for special activities. Since my kids don’t have any grandparents still alive, in past years we have invited their aunt and uncle to come and it has been nice, but this year both my boys said they “didn’t feel good” the morning of Grandparents Day. Neither of my kids are prone to “crying wolf” so I listened to them and let them stay home. However, when I came home from the office at noon, they were running around the house and obviously feeling physically fine. So, I took them out to lunch and we had our own “Grandparents’ Day.” I made a quiz for them of twenty questions about their grandparents. Which grandparent loved Almond Joy candy bars? Which grandparent had the middle name “Cecil?” What did Grandma Dottie do for a living? They loved the questions and kept asking for more and we spent over an hour in the Chinese Restaurant in the strip mall in Moorhead just talking about these beloved members of our family who my boys barely got to meet, yet whom we love dearly. While the purpose was to help my boys know and remember things about their grandparents, the process was therapeutic for me, too.

As we support one another through the losses that inevitably come with life, give one another opportunities to still speak about the loved one they lost. A friend did that for me this past week. She knew around this time of year comes the anniversary of my mom’s death and she called and after we talked for a bit, she said, “Ruth, tell me about your mom.” And for a few minutes I can’t tell you how nice it was to just have this space to speak out loud for a bit about the things that made her uniquely my mom. Oh the little things – like how she loved candy, how she liked to sit outside and enjoy the quiet, how she was the easiest person in the world to be around, how her laugh made everything better. Those were healing moments my friend gave to me – just by asking me to remember my mom out loud for a bit.

Perhaps one of our prayers this All Saints Sunday could be that God help all of us to remember to be mindful of each other and how we can gently accompany each other through the terrain of loss. This can be especially important as the holidays are coming around again and it is often this time of year that people feel the absence of those who have died most keenly.

But on All Saints Sunday we remember that while the pain of grief and separation is real, what is also real is that we are connected to one another for keeps. In churches like the one I serve, the old Scandinavian altar rails tell a story way beyond architecture. The current congregation gathers around the visible half circle rail, while the circle is completed beyond time and space by those who have already died. The wholeness of that transcendent circle of all the saints makes a beautiful and powerful statement about the faith we profess and the hope to which we cling. We gather here, the congregation in 2017 – but we gather in communion with all the saints throughout time, beyond space.

The ‘communion of saints’ – we are part of it. You, me, your grandparents, Saint Augustine, Mother Teresa, Oscar Romero and a whole host of others – a motley crew of saints all of us. Old and young, dead and alive, short and tall, immigrant and native, democrat and republican and everything in-between, known to God by our best and truest name: Children of God.

This year, for the first time, we are going to do something a little bit different on All Saints. I’m giving slips of paper to everyone as they come in to worship and ask that they write the names of loved ones who have died on those slips of paper. Then, when they come up for communion, there will be three glass vases placed inside the altar rail where they can put the names. Then, we’ll share in communion together and remember that every time we gather there, those departed ones are also there.

That’s a comforting thought to me – to think of mom in her brown polyester polka-dot dress and grandma with her ever-present tissues tucked up her sleeve or down the front of her dress, my dad with his cane and shriveled hands, my friend Candy with her pile of brown curls and a lit menthol cigarette – all of them still here with me, our heads bowed, thanking God for life, love, family, friendship, so many mystical blessings that go way beyond time and space.


So It Goes

by Chris Pureka

You pack your sweaters for the fall
and the flowers die in their garden rows
and the warm words can’t help at all,
everybody knows…

You’re trying to find a compromise
between remembering and learning to forget,
so now just pouring a glass of water
is like trying to move boulders with your breath.

It’s so hard to see it all,
she tries to hold you in the night,
but you’re shaking you’re crying out,
praying for sleep to bless your bedside.

That’s right, so it goes,
the whole world folds over you.
Pack your handkerchief and your best shoes…

Reconciliation of guilt and grief,
it’s the hardest battle you’ve tried to win
and now every year you grit your teeth
as it cuts you underneath your skin.

Oh and Sunday mornings don’t bring you solace,
you are firm in your disbelief
but you hold tight to that old promise;
you are waiting for the spring,
you are waiting for the spring.

That’s right, so it goes,
the whole world folds over you.
Pack your handkerchief and your best shoes…

Don’t leave me breathing,
no not alone,
there’s so much more I meant to tell you.
I went by with flowers, just to see,
but that granite told me you’re still gone….

Don’t leave me breathing,
no not alone,
there’s so much more I meant to tell you…
I went by with flowers, just to see,
but the granite told me you’re still gone….

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