Today is, in the liturgical calendar of many churches, All Souls’ Day, the day after All Saints’ Day. The purpose being to honor and to memorialize those who have gone before, to remember the departed who, according to Christian thought, are still with us in spirit.
We have many ways of showing our grief, of remembering and marking the departed. Let me clarify that — to honor the departed is not necessarily active grief. I honor, for example, my grandparents, but I have long ago quit grieving for them, in the usual sense of the word.
Cut to a scene of a road in Colorado, a primarily rural road. Along this road, as is true for many southwestern highways, one can see a number of crosses, often wooden, sometimes garlanded, occasionally decorated in other ways. A custom that began as primarily Hispanic has come to be adapted by others as a way of honoring loved ones who have died. In my view that is OK; it pays homage to the culture that generated this custom.
It is apparently not OK with everyone. On this particular highway, a man has made it his mission in life to tear down the roadside memorials. They offend him, for reasons unknown. In other words, he is offended by other people’s manner of sharing their grief. Why?
Cut to a scene in rural Appalachia — not far from either Pittsburgh or Cleveland, and even closer to Wheeling, W. Va., but you might as well be in another world. The body of the dead man, a victim of long-term heart disease, is laid out in the living room or, as the previous generation would have styled it, the “parlor.”
The widow shrieks loudly, wailing in the parlor next to the body of her husband of 50 years. Occasionally, the daughters or daughters-in-law who are seated near her join in.
The death was no surprise, yet the family’s actions would seem to indicate shock and disbelief. Not really. It is how things are done. It is how grief is expressed. It has nothing to do with shock.
Day of the Dead altars are custom-made for the person whom one is honoring. Articles of clothing with the deceased person’s likeness, along with date of birth and date of death.
Even dead pets — I recently pounded a post into our alley where we buried our dog Kassidy, after her fatal run-in with a truck. We grieve as we see appropriate. When Kassidy died, I immediately went to my little shop and made her a small pine box. It is something I have done for all of my pets.
Who is to judge — who is to say that your grieving, your remembering, are inappropriate, just because they are not the same as mine?
To me, the only category that is inappropriate is the lack of honoring, the sanitizing, the whitewashing. That is truly inhuman.
Clyde Davis is pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Portales and a college instructor. He can be contacted at: