Fair warning. This one is going to be pretty sentimental. Late October is a time for me to remember loved ones who have died. During the last couple of weeks I have remembered my dad (Oct 17 birthday), my son who was stillborn (Oct 25, 1997), and the one year anniversary of my mom’s death (Oct 30).
Many cultures and faiths have traditions to honor and remember the dead. For Catholics, one of the main ways is on All Souls Day, Nov 2. This falls in line nicely with my own late October remembrances. So I went to Mass this morning. We have a table with pictures of our loved ones in the sanctuary. The readings and songs express the hope and belief that our loved ones are with God. It is a beautiful memorial.
I was especially thinking of my mom this year, since it is so close to the one year anniversary of her death. And while I was a little misty eyed, I was doing pretty well until it got to the song after communion, The Guardian’s Farewell. I know this is a very Catholic take on remembering loved ones, but a few of you might find something to think about here, even if you are not Catholic.
Softly and gently, dearly ransomed soul,
in my most loving arms I now enfold thee,
And o’re the purging waters as they roll,
I poise thee and I lower thee and hold thee.
This song by David Haas is based on the end of the poem “The Dream of Gerontius” by St. John Henry Newman. It describes a guardian angel preparing a departed soul to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. All of the darkness and dirt which was accumulated on earth is gently washed away. Catholics would call this purgatory.
I think this is beautiful imagery. My mother suffered from anxiety and depression and her final years especially were filled with darkness and despair. I still struggle with these memories. This image of all of that being washed away is comforting to me.
And with great care I dip thee into the lake;
And thou without a sob or a resistance
dost through the flood thy rapid passage take,
sinking deep, deeper into the dim distance.
OK. This is where I really started to get the tears flowing. I got thinking about baptism here. So now, not only was I thinking of my mom, but of my son who was stillborn and therefore not baptized. I entrusted him to the loving care of God years ago. But there is a similarity in what I did then and what I must do now with my mom and all the darkness of the last years of her life. The tissues came out at this point.
Angels to whom the willing task is giv’n
shall tend and nurse and lull the as thou liest,
And masses on the earth and prayers in heav’n
shall aid thee at the throne of the most highest.
This is a very beautiful image to me. The tears are flowing freely at this point. I feel sadness mixed with joy. I had wanted more for my mother, for her to find peace when she was here with us. But she is at peace now, before the throne of God. All of her anger and despair has been washed away, redeemed.
Farewell but not forever, loved one dear,
be brave and patient on thy bed of sorrow,
Swiftly shall pass the night of trial here,
and I will come and wake thee on the morrow.
For me this not only speaks of the passage from this world to eternal life. But I also think of my own life. Sometimes life is very hard and the trials of living make the days feel long. But this world is passing and there are better things to come. Just be brave and patient.
And don’t forget to rely on each other. That is a lot of what today’s memorial was about. All of us who mourn loved ones coming together to support each other. I am grateful to our music director and cantor for this lovely piece and how it moved me.
We are never alone. My sister and niece were there also. Along with many who supported us during my mom’s illness. There is tremendous love in coming together as a community to remember and to laugh and yes even to cry.