We are the weird ones.
We sign names of the dead on Christmas cards. We hang their photos on our walls. We count them in our family when strangers ask at the grocery store. We tattoo their memory on our skin.
We know you may think this is strange. We are trying to tell you a secret. It is the truth we learned the hardest way. It is the other side that changed everything we knew.
And today is one of our handful of holy days.
Today in the Catholic Church we remember the faithful departed. Which is a fancy way of saying God’s beloved. All the souls that came from God and returned to God, changing lives in whatever span of time they passed through this earth of here and now.
All Souls’ Day is the quiet cousin to All Saints, the overlooked neighbor next to the feast of fanfare. Almost an afterthought – if it did not hold the secret to everything.
Which is that we hold within us the promise of eternity. The truth is so quiet that noise clamors to drown it out and despair threatens to destroy it. But this is what a soul means.
Spoiler alert: we all die. Plot twist: we still live.
This is the secret we know. We try to tell you if we feel brave enough, hard as we know it is to hear. And the secret is not about death. It is about life. We know in our bones that existence is bigger than this – bigger than time, bigger than bodies, bigger than anything seen, touched, heard, or known.
The ones we loved are still alive.
. . .
Last week marked eight months since our twin daughters lived and died. As we walked through the days of remembering, I pulled out their photo album. This time, when I looked at Abby and Maggie’s pictures, my first thought was quiet surprise: this is not the fullness of them.
I know my daughters differently now than when I carried them within me or held them in my arms. Their souls are bigger than the beauty of their tiny bodies. Their lingering presence in our lives – and in the lives of so many others, friends and strangers and readers across oceans – has bloomed into fullness, beckoning us beyond grief into a life that I never imagined.
Eternal is here and there. Changed, but not ended.
This is what today celebrates: that love and life are not destroyed by death. Our souls go beyond. What we carry within us returns to God.
. . .
All Saints and All Souls are thin places on the calendar, arriving each year as light fades and days shorten, leaves fall and gardens shrivel. Frost paints icy death on the grass each morning, and wind carries whispers of cold.
We need to remember, now more than ever, that the veil between here and heaven is thin.
I remember this thinness whenever I walk through the cemetery. I let the kids wander to the far edges, out of sight, without worry. Somehow they feel safer here, in a space unafraid to bear witness to mortality and fragility.
Here we can talk about death freely. It is normal and natural. We are not the weird ones. The children sense this freedom. They are unafraid here, too. The quiet beauty of love’s ground holds us, strong and steady.
It is a day about death, and it is a day about hope. A day to be unafraid to speak of the dead and what they have taught us. A day to imagine where our souls will go next, too.
“They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead;
and their passing away was thought an affliction
and their going forth from us, utter destruction.
But they are in peace.”