Day of the Dead

November 4th Day of the Dead Sunday Service talk by Jean Rhian

I have thought about this service a great deal over a long period of time, and find myself to be just overwhelmed with a myriad of thoughts.  I don’t know where to begin and where to end.

My parents approach when we were young was to never talk about death and to only attend funerals when they thought it was absolutely unavoidable, and then of course not to mention they did so.    I do not think this was a particularly helpful approach in the cultural education of children.  My Mother suggested that I didn’t need to bother with going to my younger sister’s funeral, which had been arranged by her husband .  Both parents and all of her siblings did in fact attend.

Both my parents requested no memorial service.  And , in fact, their ashes to this day reside in boxes in my brother’s closet.    When my Mother died, there was no service at all.  We were together as a family at the time of her death, but there was no rite of passage.  My younger sister remarked that it was difficult to decide when to send the grandchildren who had been very close to her back to school.

Anthropologists and archeologists say that humans have had death rituals for at least 130,000 years.  These rituals vary widely, for burials, public remembrances,  mourning and grieving and to a formal end to grieving.  My own sense of it is, that there must be something to all that.

And, of course, various religions have prescribed rituals around remembrance, grieving, and burial.  Judaism in particular still has very specific instructions for parents, spouses, children and friends to take them through this event.  I envy that.

For this morning I have chosen to give a few remarks on the value of visible signs of death and mourning.  There are specific colors associated with death and mourning depending on the culture.  For many of us black is a death symbol.  Black clothing was a sign of mourning.  And the length of time one wore black was carefully prescribed in the Victorian era.  Also relics of the dead person were treasured and even turned into jewelry.  Hair was rather commonly saved in rings, watches, brooches, etc.  Other mourning colors across cultures are white, gray, purple, and yellow.

At times of loss in my life, the deaths of parents, and my sister, I have wished for a way to silently notify the world that I need  a little more slack.    As the advertisement on the Grieving Together websitesays:  “when you don’t have the words to speak, let these symbols of loss speak for you.  Wear them as long as you need to, they display for others that you may be in need of a bit of grace and support.

Items include black ribbons, either of metal or fabric, black bracelets, and black armbands.

I really like this idea.  I like that it’s visible, but not obtrusive.  I like their suggestion  that the wearer decide when is the right time to discontinue.  Ours is a busy, large, and often times an impersonal world.  I believe that visible symbols would aid us in reigning in our impatience with other, and add to the small random acts of kindness that we can give to each other.  Another symbol I read about includes wearing many gray necklaces and removing  bit by bit over a period of 9 months.

What are your experiences and thoughts on death rituals and signs of mourning?  If we talk about this with each other it can help us find or define our own comfort zone for this difficult time.  None of us can live fully without the experience of loss, no matter how silent we are or how we deny this reality.


During our coffee hours today we invite you to memorialize your loved ones, to think of your own mortality.  You can record your thoughts on the chart paper around the room.  Read, write, talk, and listen.  We need one another.



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