All Souls Day is going to mean more to me this year than ever. I recently lost my brother to cancer. My thoughts are filled with memories, conversations and images of my closest sibling in age. Although his death has brought me much sadness, it has also been marked with grace and many blessings.
My brother was somewhat of a prodigal son, often choosing the difficult path and causing my parents a great deal of worry. As people of faith, we sometimes forget that the stray sheep is most precious to the shepherd. Jimmy was a baptized child of God and his impish, wondering facial expression stands out in the group photo of his First Communion. Although he was not a churchgoer, he lived his life fully-enjoying the gifts of creation in his own way. He once entered the burning house of a neighbour trying to save the man’s two dogs and in his final days, he gravitated to love and goodness. The Serenity Hospice surrounded him with love and compassion.
This wonderful feast gives us an opportunity to celebrate and remember those we love who have gone before us. Jim was a prodigal son, loved by his Father. It gives me comfort to think of the words of scripture that we read today: “Where O death is your victory? Where is your sting?” All Souls Day reminds us that there is rest for our souls. “We will all be changed in a moment.”
In his final hours, I had the image in my mind of Jesus scooping up the young man. I remember this scene from a contemporary painting by Thomas Blackshear entitled Forgiven. Carol, a good friend, was by his side in prayer. She emailed me with the message: “Jesus just scooped him up.”
Who are you missing and grieving for right now? All Souls Day is a special day to think of all those you love and hold them in prayer. What a gift that our lives are permeated with the love of others. In this month’s Living with Christ missalette, the write up for All Souls Day says that Odilo, the abbot of the great monastery of Cluny in France, established a tradition of keeping the faithful departed “with joyous affection.” (Living with Christ November 2020, p. 168.)
On this All Souls Day I am going to write up a list of those I love who have departed. There are aunts, uncles, grandparents, former students, pastors, colleagues and friends, my father-in-law and father will be on this list. I will reflect on the love that they brought to my life. A good friend, Msgr. Len Lunney, once said that “it is always about love in the end.” How do we mourn, how do we celebrate? Let it be with love. And so, tearfully, I will remember and celebrate the gift of my brother, James. I will light a candle, sip a cup of Earl Grey tea, listen to a Rolling Stones song and offer a prayer of thanks for the wonderful gift of his love in my life. May this All Souls Day give us all a chance to hold the faithful departed in love, thanksgiving and celebration for the marks they have left on our lives.
–Jan Bentham is a Retired Religion Coordinator with the Ottawa Catholic School Board. She is a musician, serving in music ministry at St. Ignatius Parish in Ottawa. She currently works at St. Paul’s University with the Catholic Women’s Leadership Program.