“At the going down of the sun and in the morning, We will remember them.” Robert Binyon
November is a traditional month of remembrance. It’s customary for us to wear poppies during this month to remember all those lost to us during wars and conflict. It is also, in the Catholic tradition, the month of ‘Holy Souls’ where we pray and remember all departed friends and family.
November is also the month my mother died – on the 14th to be exact – three days before my birthday. So, each November since, when I celebrate and remember the day I was born, I also find myself remembering and mourning the very person who gave me that birthday.
My mother died on a Saturday and we had been out to dinner to celebrate my birthday when the call had come through. I saw my phone screen light up with “private number calling” and I knew. I can remember the rush to the hospital. I can remember trying to call a taxi. I can remember worrying that we wouldn’t even get one at that time on a Saturday night. I can remember the ridiculousness of trying to run along the hospital corridor in heels. I can remember us arriving on the ward, the noise of which awakened some of the other patients. I can remember the wait, as they found someone to speak to us; it felt too long.
“Where is the urgency? Don’t they know?” I angrily asked my husband.
“They’re doing their best,” he gently told me.
I can remember them pulling back the hospital curtain and asking them, “Is it too late?”
“Sorry she’s gone,” was the reply.
I don’t really remember much of that night after that.
Life and death
That first birthday after she died, my 25th, I remember my friends and family nervously presenting me with a combination of sympathy cards and birthday cards. “I am so sorry for your loss!” and” Happy Birthday!” mumbled by them in quick succession.
Once all the visitors had left I took all the birthday cards down and just left the sympathy ones. I remember thinking at that moment that I would never celebrate my birthday again. Away from my faith at that time, I didn’t have any hope that my mum had ‘gone on’ to anything and, maybe because of that, I didn’t have much hope that my life would go on in any meaningful way either.
Until I became a mother myself, I had no idea how important my birthday had been to my mother. She always made a big deal of birthdays , every year, even when circumstances made that very difficult to achieve. It’s something that she passed down to me and I always make an incredible fuss of everyone’s birthday but, of course, especially so for my children.
In the July after my mother died, my son turned one. The night before his birthday, my husband and I spent the evening talking through “this time last year” and remembering his birth. His birthday was, of course, his day to celebrate, but also one of the most special days of my life and suddenly I knew what it had meant for my mother.
My birthday was her day as much as mine, and I began to celebrate again in memory of her. But while that was progress of sorts, I was not yet living for me.
“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” Ephesians 2:8-9
During the month of Holy Souls, we remember our faithfully departed and, as Christians, as we move from November into December we arrive at Advent – a time when we remember and prepare for the celebration of the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ.
And really, it is through his life, death and resurrection that we are given the hope of eternal life.
Coming to faith, for me, has meant coming to new life. Through Jesus, I now realise the true gift of life that I have been given and that I am meant to live that life to the fullest. But more than that, I now know I have hope of ‘more’!
“The souls of the virtuous are in the hands of God, no torment shall ever touch them. In the eyes of the unwise, they did appear to die, their going looked like a disaster, their leaving us, like annihilation; but they are in peace. If they experienced punishment as men see it, their hope was rich with immortality; slight was their affliction, great will their blessing be.” Wisdom (3:1-9)
This month, I will be remembering those I have loved who have died and I will be mourning their loss. I will also be celebrating their lives and, more than that, celebrating the great victory over death won for them – and us – by Jesus.
My mum celebrated on my birthday each year the gift of life that she had been given in me; it is the same gift I celebrate on each of my children’s birthdays. It brings me great peace and joy to know that I am now living that gift to the full, as I know this is all my loved ones would have wanted for me.
I will remember, this month especially, to honour that great gift, as I remember and honour them.
“Eternal Rest grant unto them O Lord and Let Perpetual Light Shine Upon them. May they rest in peace. Amen
May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen”