I really dislike Halloween.
Some of you might be gasping right now, but I said what I said, people. I don’t enjoy scary things, and it’s always seemed like an awful lot of work for a bucket or two of candy that I could easily buy myself.
My four-year old, however, loves it. He gets so very excited about picking out his costume, adores the thrill of getting more free candy than he knows what to do with. (His older sister usually helps out with that dilemma.) He’ll take any excuse he can get to celebrate because his personality is larger-than-life and holidays, to him, are just another reason to have a party. And so each year, we pick out the costume, put the pumpkins out, decorate with little ghosts and black cats. Because parenthood is, after all, one long reminder of life’s most important lesson: it’s not always about us.
Last year, I started thinking about something I had learned when I was a little girl growing up in Catholic school. One of the nuns had taught us about the root of the word in English — All Hallow’s Eve. In fact, when it comes to the Church’s calendar of holy days, Halloween is the beginning of what Kate Bowler calls a little arc in our time, where the space between the living and dead is thin, where the veil between worlds is so fragile that we get the sense we’re walking around on holy ground. Hallowed ground, even.
I don’t know about you, but this year, I need some hallowed ground. This year, I need something sacred to mark all the loss and the grief and the disappointment and the sadness and the fear. I need help remembering that the light shines most brightly in the dark. I need to be able to make something beautiful from the ashes of suffering this year has brought us. I need to believe that somehow, someway, this is not all in vain.
We are a world in mourning right now. Our losses are so great, so vast that the grief can numb us, if we allow it, because we’d rather feel nothing than another heartbreak.
1,180,505 deaths from COVID. The number continues to climb.
Hurricanes, fires, floods, earthquakes.
Black bodies being murdered at disproportionately higher rates.
Basic human rights being trampled.
Our bleeding, weeping planet.
O God, we don’t want to feel it! It hurts too much.
Lost loved ones.
Relatives in nursing homes who we haven’t seen in months.
Children whose whole worlds have been turned upside down.
Fear of touch, one of our most basic human needs.
Canceled birthday parties, graduation celebrations, long-planned-for vacations.
Suffering mental health.
Loneliness and isolation.
Families unable to bury their dead.
The suffering and loss we feel is on such a massive scale, and most of us haven’t lived through anything like this before. But one of the most beautiful things about the Church is its long, ancient history of practices and rituals that help inform how we live out our days as people of faith in the modern age. All Hallow’s Eve is followed by All Saint’s Day, celebrating the saints who have gone before us and have been canonized, and ends with All Soul’s Day, during which we remember those we have lost. In times of worldwide grief, such as after World War II, traditions surrounding these days have been revived as a way for human beings to grapple with their losses, pay homage to the dead, and ground us during a period where the suffering is so great that it feels like it could unravel us.
So this year, as we sit amidst all the broken pieces from all our deep losses, I need to remember. I need to be grounded. I need to be able to name my grief, to look it its face, and offer it to the only One who has already borne it. I know Kate Bowler and Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber are holding a vigil on Instagram on All Soul’s Day, and they will be praying through the list of names left by commenters, names of those who are loved and missed.
I, too, will have a vigil, and I’d like to invite you into one of your own.
Name your losses. Speak them, sing them, write them, whatever you have to do. I’m choosing to write them out, each on its own scrap of paper, grappling with the magnitude of every one.
And then release them. I’m going to burn mine. You, in whatever way feels right to you, are invited to lift the weight of suffering from your chest so you can breathe a little easier.
Scatter them to the wind.
Create from them.
Tuck them away somewhere safe where they won’t be staring you in the face every single day.
We have been carrying around our grief from this year for eleven months now, and we are weary. We weren’t meant to hold so much suffering. We’re unable to.
If you feel comfortable, I would be honored if you would leave a comment, letting me know how you’re choosing to look loss in the eyes and release it this year. Additionally, if there is a grief that feels too heavy for you to bear right now, it would be a privilege to pray for you in it.
Let us remember we are on hallowed ground right now. It hurts, I know it does. I feel it, too. But we’re still here, together.