Memorializing the Dead

I am reminded this time of year about loss and memory. “October has a lot of anniversaries,” I’ve said before. On All Saints and All Souls, we celebrate collective and individual loss. Grief is very individual, very selfish, but grief also opens you up to a community of people who have also experienced loss. And I can’t help thinking about bodies and what belonged to them. A body of a dead son, a dead father, sister. My grandmother. Her pillow. St. Lucy’s eyes. John the Baptist’s head. The ashes of Joan of Arc. Husayn’s body. Fatimah’s sorrow. The sword that pierced Mary’s heart. The actual heart.

Grief is not limited to loss. As my therapist says, any change is grief. And people get connected to objects in ways that tie them to specific periods in their life; to specific losses. I’ve been tutoring people in a medieval and renaissance studies class who have been writing about the difference between images and relics. One girl took the words right out of my mouth: “Images,” she said, “are two-dimensional – a portrait that is staring at you. It tells you the story. With relics, you get to hold them and put your memory into them. It’s like an urn. It’s a tactile memory of the dead.”

May the remembrances of the dead and the living this week/weekend bring us what we need. May some of us this week/weekend light candles for collective losses of memory, people, history, and space.

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