Today, acknowledge grief and reach out to the dead
By Mary Croke

Halloween: Time to party. Time for the alter egos to come out of the closet, time to play a little dress-up, catch up with the neighbors.

But there's another side to Halloween, a quieter and more introspective side, that emerges today, All Souls' Day. Nov. 2 is one of the more mysterious and prayerful days in the Christian calendar. It's a day to gather up all our dead, acknowledge who they were, what they did, and what we owe them. It's a day to re-enter the timeless and unsolvable mystery that one day someone can be here  -- and the next day not.

It's also a day to let our grief rise to the top. Grief needs vehicles to help keep it from getting stuck deep down inside. It needs its hot tears and its dark nights of the soul, its funerals and its anniversaries. It needs its days of the dead.

Grief has its own intelligence. There is no way around it, no way to soften it, shorten it, slip it a mickey. Unexpressed, it does not go away. It goes underground, leaches into the groundwater, and then returns to haunt us, disguised as vague anxieties and depressions, rigidities and irritabilities. Whether we are experiencing the burning of a fresh loss or the quiet wistfulness of an old one, grief is not to be trifled with.

I'm not sure why it has to hurt so much when we lose somebody. All I can think is that we're made out of the same stuff. That's what it feels like, anyway, as if we're connected by an umbilical cord or taproot.

We have trouble letting our dead ones go. Certainly I do. And when I miss mine the most, I wish I could just touch them, just hold them. If not that, at least maybe I could just see them, the way people see ghosts in the movies. And if not that, maybe I could just have little statues or pictures where their spirits resided so I could know just where they were. Is that so much to ask? Apparently so.

Sometimes I think that if we could finally understand how absolutely unique, how utterly irreplaceable we are to our loved ones (even if they don't always like us), it would cure us forever of any desire to be looked up to. We don't just show up in this world without someone rejoicing that we're here, and we rarely leave without someone grieving that we're gone.

But we continue, with us on one side of a strange wall and our lost ones on the other. At some point when our grieving recedes a little, a larger heart starts to emerge. I'm not so sure it's a happier heart, but it's a more consoling and generous one, and it's all ours. It's there to remind us that we're not alone.

It's why God gave us tears, and it's why we gave ourselves days to remember our dead.