November is the month the praying Church dedicates to remembrance of the dead. As one whose life has been especially marked by death and grief, my prayer with and for the dead is an important part of my spiritual life. However, my devotion tends more toward relationship than specific set prayers for them, though I pray those too at times.
I had not thought of it until I set out to write this post, but there are many things I do that weave my sense of loving relationship with the dead into my every day. Some of them are, the way I pray Evening Prayer in the cemetery when I get a chance, the way my daughters and I make the sign of the cross when we drive over the bridge where my first husband’s fatal accident happened, the way I wear my wedding ring still (on my right hand now,) the way I always make enough coffee for two even though I am alone (it’s for my husbands.) I love telling stories about my granny, and sharing my mom’s pithy wisdom with people. I have a habit of lightly touching certain family pictures on my way up the stairs. I often whisper the names of my beloved dead at mass. I light candles for them in church or at home. I make their favorite foods on their birthdays and my family does special things on the anniversaries of their deaths. I often play their favorite music and go places they loved in memory of them on special days. In honor of my mom, I re-read books we loved to read aloud together. My mom is part of every good meal I cook, every rose I appreciate, every fragrant bunch of herbs I gather.
I ask their advice about things they were good at, and it seems the right thought or answer usually comes to me. When I ask one of them to help me about something, it seems to me that they do.
I invite people I love who have died to pray the rosary with me, and I often ask one or more of them to join me in a novena I am praying, especially if it is to a saint they loved, or for a cause or person they especially cared about.
My mom loved the Divine Mercy Chaplet. I always invite her to pray it with me.
I never leave the cemetery without praying a Hail Mary with and for each of my husbands. I tell them I love them. I say, “Be blessed, and pray for us.” If my daughters are with me, they do this, too.
When I pray with my husbands in mind, I always pray for their intentions. I know those guys so well, and I know they are not just sitting around doing nothing. I know they are busy doing good for us who still struggle on earth. Like everyone else there, I think they have heavenly ministries.
My youngest daughter likes to take her guitar to the cemetery and sing for her dads. I like imagining how much they both must love her doing that.
Acts of love and service in honor of the dead are a beautiful prayer. That is one way we honor my second husband, Bob, that is particularly appropriate given the way he lived his life. We try to do acts service in his honor all day on his birthday.
I am sure there are many things like this that you also do, Reader, to honor your dead, and to continue the relationship with them on a spiritual level.
I talk to my husbands and my mom all the time. I know other people have told me they do things like this. This, too, is prayer. We are in communication with Heaven.
Often, as people get to know my family, they remark on how we talk about my husbands as if they were still alive. Well, they are. They are part of us. And if the Kingdom of Heaven is within us, then all our beloved dead are within us, too, alive, right here.
As my second husband, Bob, wrote, referring to my first husband, Marc Blaze, “His picture will always hang on our wall, his name will be mentioned around our table, and his ring will always be on her finger.”
There are stories in my family, and among our friends, of times we felt that my granny, Marc Blaze, Bob, my mom, or my brother, responded in some way to us or made their presence known in some small way that someone who loved them would not miss. I have heard a lot of stories like that from other families, too; simple stories and a few really wild ones that make you wonder how anyone could give any credence to the theory that earthly life is all there is. These are experiences of the Communion of Saints.
Heaven seems to be near, very near us. Maybe we just have to pay attention to notice when it speaks to us. That paying attention is prayer, too.
I have heard a lot of people talk about meaningful dreams they have had that were deeply impressed on their hearts; dreams that were like visits from those they loved who have died. I have these dreams too sometimes.
In one numinous dream, I was running up beautiful stairs that led into the night sky. I was surrounded by stars, my heart filled with joy. I was reciting the Divine Praises as I ran up and up the steps. My second husband, Bob, was standing on a landing above me holding a cup of coffee, smiling radiantly. It was a very vivid, healing dream. Dreams that come from God are a form of receptive prayer, I think.
A few days before the car accident that killed my first husband, Marc Blaze, he wanted us to say our wedding vows to each other then and there. So we knelt where we stood, and repeated our vows to one another before God.
Then he said, “Shawn, if anything happens to me, if God lets me, I’ll be with you.” He squeezed my hands, saying, “But no matter what, we’ll always be together in the Eucharist.”
That’s it, isn’t it? The Church on Earth, the Church in Purgatory, The Church in Heaven; we are all together in the Eucharist, in the Communion of Saints, in the Heart of God, in our prayer for and with each other. Because of God’s mercy, because of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, love is stronger than death. The living and the dead love one another, honor one another, help one another.
I ran across this prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours.
May the dead rest in eternal peace, — may their union with us be strengthened through the sharing of spiritual goods. Bless your people, Lord.
Maybe we don’t usually think about strengthening our union with the dead, or sharing spiritual goods. But these are the words of the Church. This is what we do. And God blesses us.
Do not forget that I am your sister and I will never cease praying for you. ~St. Therese
We will never cease praying for our beloved dead, because we will never stop loving them. They will never stop praying for and loving us either.
Love is the only thing we can take with us when we die. Our dead left this world with our love, and they still have it. We still have theirs. Love is alive, because God is alive and God is love. Love is not static, because God isn’t. Jesus said that God was not a God of the dead but of the living, so when we say he is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, we affirm that though these men died, they are alive in God.
Silent love flows between us at all times, on both sides of life and death. The more we are aware of and cultivate this love, the more it is prayer.
When we perform some act of love and remembrance, we are praying. When we talk to someone who is living in the spiritual world that includes Purgatory and Heaven, we are praying. We can pray for them, we can ask their prayers, we can talk to them and hang out with them. We are one with them.
Now and then God does something out of the ordinary to remind us of these truths.
At a daily mass a couple of years after the death of my first husband, I was about to receive Holy Communion from Fr. David at St. Mary’s, with my very small youngest child on my hip.
Fr. David said, “Body of Christ.”
I said, “Amen.”
My little daughter said, “Hi Daddy!”
We will be,we are, always together in the Eucharist. All of us.
Father, in the eucharistic sacrifice you unite us more fully
with those who now live in your kingdom…
~from the Prayers of Intercession from the Liturgy of the Hours
for All Saint’s Day.
Related stories I have written : A little story about the rosary and love stronger than death http://www.austincnm.com/index.php/2013/10/little-story-rosary-love-stronger-death-communion-saints/#.VjQ047RViko
A Bobly Day of “Skin Religion.” http://www.austincnm.com/index.php/2014/12/bobly-day-skin-religion/#.VjRLk7RViko