Today’s post is by Nancy Vande Hey. Nancy is a Catholic homeschooling mother. She and her husband of 21 years, Nathan, have 11 children. Nancy enjoys helping people pursue better physical and spiritual health. She loves to spend time with her family, praying with people, and drinking chai lattes.
When asked to state their favorite month, not many people respond November -unless it holds special significance for a birthday, anniversary, or another occasion worth remembering. People don’t clamor for the cold winds, bare trees, the dark night encroaching earlier and earlier into our daytime hours, or the impending crush of activity that heralds the onslaught of “The Holidays”. To quote Peter Mulvey, a singer/songwriter from Milwaukee, “Why does November drag its heels while October never seems to last?”
But every day is a gift from God, even the days of November. What gifts are hidden within this oft’ abused month? One clear invitation is to reflect on gratitude. On social media, November brings a flood of daily posts with people sharing why they are thankful each day. This focus helps orient people toward a true sense of humility and gratitude which is sorely lacking in many of our days.
Another gift in November, imparted by our Mother Church, is the encouragement to also reflect on those who have gone before us. All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day are the liturgical focus at the very beginning of the month. On All Saints’ Day, we have the opportunity to thank God for the holy men and women who came before us and who inspire us that heaven is an attainable goal. We ask them to pray for us, the Church Militant, those engaged in the battle against evil and striving to spread the light of Christ in our corners of the world.
All Souls’ Day reminds us that our sojourn to heaven might include a period of purification in purgatory. Often misunderstood or misrepresented, purgatory is a mercy of God, an opportunity to be freed from our attachments to sin and be made whole again. We pray for our loved ones who have died and who might still be experiencing purgatory, trusting in Jesus’ love and mercy for them.
This time of reflection on those who have gone before us can resurrect pain and sadness we feel over family or friends who have died, especially if our mourning was incomplete. When I was 17 years old, my maternal grandmother died on Christmas morning while I was an exchange student in New Zealand. I knew before I left home in August that I would never see her alive again – that was clear. When I got the news of Grandma’s death, I did cry a little. But my mourning really began when I returned home the August after her death. She had lived with my family from the time I was 8 years old. It was hard to see her recliner was gone, her bed, her dresser, her presence. Suddenly, I ached to hug her one last time, to touch her sweet soft cheeks, or comb her thinning silver hair.
Grief cannot be ignored. It demands attention. A person might be able to push it aside for a time, but every event that causes mourning compounds the old grief if it is not dealt with appropriately. By now, many people are familiar with the stages of grief: 1. Denial and isolation; 2. Anger; 3. Bargaining; 4. Depression; 5. Acceptance. People who are grieving do not necessarily go through the stages in the same order or experience all of them.
Elizabeth Ministry was founded in part to help families through these stages. Many families who grieved a miscarried baby, stillborn baby, infant loss, or infertility needed support through these stages of grief. Elizabeth Ministers meet one on one with families to share their feelings and offer hope.
In addition to death of loved ones, we have other events that require us to accept grief. A marriage ends, a job evaporates, a move across the state or country requires us to leave our community behind, a child makes hurtful decisions leaving the parents feeling estranged. Too often people hear, “Forgive and forget!” The mourning process can be cut short. Then lingering sadness or anger can erupt at seemingly odd times leaving you to wonder, “Where in the world did that come from?” Prayer can help enlighten a troubled soul as to why they are still easily set off and very often, unresolved grief is part of the problem.
So this November, be thankful. Be prayerful. And reflect on any areas of your life left un-mourned. Allow Jesus to comfort you as you work through the stages of grief. A healed heart is truly something we can feel grateful for.
I know you are hurting
I see you tied up in knots over there
But these are the days we are given
They are precious we must live them I swear
This could be the last warm day in a cold and ugly November
When it’s all over, what are you going to remember?
(Peter Mulvey, November)
*editor’s note: Not all of Peter Mulvey’s lyrics are appropriate so use caution in listening to his music, especially with children present. Many of his songs are beautiful and thought-provoking, but use discretion.