Halloween is the beginning of Hallowtide in the Catholic Church – the first of three days where the Church remembers those that have come before us: Halloween (All Hallows Eve), All Saints Day (All Hallows Day), and All Souls Day. Halloween, for us, is actually supposed to be a day of fasting followed by All Hallows Day, which is a feast of celebration and remembrance of the saints that came before us. All Souls Day is a feast and celebration of remembrance of all of the departed, especially those close to us. Many are aware of Dia de los muertos in many Latin American countries, especially since Disney’s movie Coco came out last year. And the movie wasn’t that far off in some regards – we set up pictures and candles and we remember our lost loved ones, often eating and drinking the things that they also loved.
If you hang around Catholic circles enough you will end up coming across the Latin phrase “Memento mori” which means remember that you will die. It may seem morbid, but really it’s a call to recenter priorities and refocus on God, as our ultimate goal is to be a saint, to enter Heaven. Hallowtide reminds us of this, too. Hallowtide reminds us that, as Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble points out in her article about “Memento Mori,” “…Jesus has changed the nature of death for those who believe. Before becoming pope, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger once wrote: ‘The sting of death is extinguished in Christ.’”
Some believe that the veil between the departed and the living is thinned during this time of year, but the Catholic doctrine regarding saints has helped me understand that our friends in Heaven are always near with an open heart and a listening ear asking, “how can I pray for you today, my friend?”
And the past 18 months has also shown me how thin that veil between life and death really is. The first week in July of 2017 I found out I was pregnant with Olivia and my sister was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 34. The anticipation of life and the reality that we will all die someday sitting together in one room. We find so much hope and strength in anticipation for babies to enter this world, don’t we? But babies also remind us of the fragility of life. Olivia came 8 weeks early and with a congenital skin condition that had potentially bleak outcomes. When Olivia was born that veil between life and death seemed not like a veil, but a gaping doorway that she could slip in and out of at any moment.
A year after my pregnancy news and year after my sister’s diagnosis – only about three months since Olivia had been discharged from the hospital – our 18 year old cousin fell into a coma. And all of the sudden I was reminded of that thin veil between life and death once again. Again, face to face with how quickly and unexpectedly our life can be taken away. Our familial resiliency convened once again and we came around to support one another again. Although weary from our own sufferings and questioning how much more we will be asked to endure, we found each other. And I’m reminded that we have ancestors that came before us that endured their own hardships and they are still there beside us, convening with us asking, “Mi amor, how can I pray for you?”
As my sister’s tests came back clear, and Olivia continued to be her happy and content self, and my cousin made progress recovering from a brain injury, I found out the one of the youth that I worked closely with during my time working in restorative justice was shot and killed by other young people in his apartment complex. My heart broke as I wondered how much more emotional energy I had stored up to process this all. And I found comfort and hope in “momento mori” because our life on earth doesn’t have to be the end. We learn. We grow in relationship with others. We find and rediscover our identity and who God has called us to be with the hope that we leave a legacy of love and goodness for those that will come after us. We endure for the good of the future.