It was another emotional hurdle and I guess a rite of passage for the grieving to get through, that I was not looking forward to.
This world wide Catholic celebration, All Souls Day, actually was started in the monastery of Cluny in Burgundy.
It was in 998, that the monastery set aside November 2 as a day to pray for all of the deceased monks. Eventually this practice spread to churches everywhere in France to pray for the dead.
In the 13 century, Rome inscribed it in the church calendar to follow All Saints Day, which was started in 700’s.
Whereas All Saints is dedicated to honoring those canonized saints, all souls days is to honor all of the deceased.
It is a reality that I have to confront each day, that I can not avoid, even if my mind would like to think it never happened and it was all just a bad nightmare.
Even finding the words to write seems impossible, if not sorely lacking. How does a mother express what she feels with written words, that seem so empty?
There are not any words, at least for me to say what I want, so perhaps this is all a mishap of my thoughts, derailed and then slugged in grief.
Millions of mothers throughout the ages have gone through this, so I have many souls by my side who know my pain, both living and dead.
The saints and the dead I pray to asking for their prayers and the living I talk to for fellowship, understanding and comfort.
I attended All Saints Mass at 11 am last Wednesday, and since it is a holiday in France, Aimée attended with me. Afterwards the priest invited us to reserve a candle for our beloved deceased with their name on it, that would be lit the following day for All Souls Day.
After I had written my son’s name in a book that would be set on the altar at Mass, for which the Mass would be offered for their souls, I had an unexpected blessing out of the blue.
This beautiful women turned to me and said in english, I am so sorry for your loss. I was momentarily knocked out of my cloud of grief to hear her voice, totally unexpected.
Like myself, Maria is an American expat who sometimes attends my church and lives in the 14th arrondissement.
Tears welled in my eyes in gratitude for her simple gesture of kindness . It was surely a gift of the Holy Spirit to this grieving mother, lost in the senselessness of death.
After a brief exchange of hugs, names and emails, I hope to see her again and if you are reading this Maria, thank you again for touching my heart.
Another example of how the living can be saints to us too, even strangers, as well as my dear friends have been, always offering their kind outreach of support, that I find sacred, and saintly.
My sweet aunt Margaret, who died two years ago knew the pain of losing two children and I often feel her solace.
I think often of one of my dearest friends, Ann, who I reach out to, who lost her only two children and could write volumes. And then there is my friend Gay, who lost her granddaughter two years ago.
As I was beginning to write this post Sunday night, I learned of another mass shooting. There will be others to follow because sadly, protection of gun rights are more important than human lives in my birth country.
So it seems that the day of the dead has evolved into the week of the dying, and I grieve along with all of them too.
A confraternity of parents and loved ones, bound with grief that no one ever wanted, nor to be a part of, nor would wish upon any soul.
Back in the middle ages in Paris, death was a constant reminder of how fragile life was. Parents, rich and poor, royal or peasant were confronted with the reality that their children had about a 30 to 50% chance of living past childhood.
Childhood diseases and infections, that today are prevented by vaccines and easily cured with antibiotics took the majority.
Being pregnant also carried a major risk of death , as many women died in giving birth from post partum infections due to lack of hygienic measures.
Because they were unable to see bacteria and viruses, in the minds of people they didn’t exist and even if they could notice, they probably would reject the notion that something so small would make one sick.
The black plague killed thousands in Paris and all major European cities, and has recently had a comeback in Madagascar.
Bacteria are becoming more resistant to our overuse of antibiotics and viruses can mutate into deadlier infections.
Deaths from opioid addiction overdoses are rampant and keep rising alarmingly so. With no real cures other than abstention, that only about 10% of heroin addicts are able to achieve it will continue to decimate.
Although we have achieved so many medical advances that save lives, there always seems to be another deadly affliction just waiting to pounce upon humankind.
If life is a mystery, so death remains an unavoidable one as well. The great invisible void of that which we come from, we return.
For those of us who believe in the afterlife, and that dying is a re entry back into goodness and peace, there is some comfort, though our human penchant for “proof” can create doubts.
Walking into the dimly lit church on Thursday evening for the vigil preceding the Le Jour des Morts mass, my eyes caught sight of the soft golden glow of the flickering candles, neatly arranged in rows at the foot of the altar as seen above in the first photo.
Each candle; each soul beloved and sorrowfully missed. Heartfelt prayers were sung and Hail Mary’s offered interspersed with reading out of names of those deceased during the past year.
Tears fell and ran hot down my cheeks, and I begin to feel my son’s presence as if he had snuggled next to me draping his arms around me.
I like to think he was really there and not all in my imagination. Whatever and from wherever, it was soothing and there was a sheer veil of peace that enshrouded us both.
Rituals honoring the dead often bring their souls back to us left behind. They are not to be feared but welcomed for those of us in grief to reconnect in mysterious ways.
For they have gone from the physical, but return in the light that they have become. Our human eyes have little ability to see beyond the physicality that surrounds us, but only our hearts can see the brilliant spectrum of their light, that our eyes are blinded to.
Instead I felt drawn like in a vacuum to meander the funeral statuary in the Louvre. This little girl of nobility who died at age 7, has a unicorn at her feet to symbolise her purity.
I remember being struck by a funerary relief in Athens and the words inscribed from a grieving mother, rings as true today as back 3,000 years ago.
My pain is no different from the grieving Greek mother nor any other mothers through the ages and throughout the globe.
From that I can draw strength and comfort in knowing they , the dead as much as the living, understand our pain.
Our tears are not different from each other and I amongst millions of other mothers, in this cruel twist of fate, weep for us all and our children lost well before their time.