Grief and gratitude are kindred souls,
each pointing to the beauty of what is transient and given to us by grace.
Patricia Campbell Carlson
As our days become shorter and cooler, I am reminded of how fall is a season of beginnings and endings. On a personal level, it's a season where I celebrate the birthdays of many friends, and a season where I commemorate anniversaries of many loved ones. Fall, more than the other seasons, makes me confront my own mortality and embrace the preciousness that each day brings. As we leave the languishing days of summer behind and embrace the crisp morning air, there's a sharpness and acuity to life in the fall that heightens ones senses. There are many extraordinary days etched in my calendar during this season--days of celebration and days of mourning. Nowhere is this paradox more evident than on November 6th.
For the past twenty years, every November 6th has been a balancing act for me. November 6th marks our wedding anniversary, and it also marks the day that my dad died. It's definitely a strange twist of fate that these two events (one so joyful, the other so painful) fall on the same day. This year marked our 30th wedding anniversary, and the 20th anniversary since my dad passed.
When my dad died in 1993, I wondered if we would ever be able to significantly celebrate our anniversary without sadness. But what I've learned is that we are able to acknowledge both events with the appropriate emotions. I think this is true because my dad was so much more to me than the day he died. I choose to remember him for all of the other days he lived and the important part he played in my own life.
Having said that, I do think it's important to honor the days of the deaths of loved ones with gratitude for their presence. In Judaism we light a special yahrzeit candle on the anniversary that burns for 24 hours in memory of our loved one. It is believed that the candle represents their soul that we continue to carry in our hearts, and the flame reminds us of them. I also appreciate the way death is acknowledged in Mexico and other Latin American countries with their observance of the Day of the Dead. I like that they have a day every year (November 1) where they build an altar, put up pictures, and share stories and anecdotes about their loved ones. It's a way of being mindful of the passing of loved ones and grateful for the time we had with them on this earth. I think it, in turn, helps us find greater meaning in our own lives.
As we get older, the calendar of our lives becomes crowded with all sorts of significant days--both celebratory and painful. It's inevitable that a well-lived life is going to be filled with these markers. That's the byproduct of living a life with deep connections. Our task is to face these moments with gratitude and embrace the paradox. For it's an inevitable truth that the more we love someone, the deeper we mourn.
Here's one of my favorite poems by Gunilla Norris on Paradox:
By Gunilla Norris
It is a paradox that we encounter so much internal noise
when we first try to sit in silence.
It is a paradox that experiencing pain releases pain.
It is a paradox that keeping still can lead us
so fully into life and being.
Our minds do not like paradoxes. We want things
to be clear, so we can maintain our illusions of safety.
Certainty breeds tremendous smugness.
We each possess a deeper level of being, however,
which loves paradox. It knows that summer is already
growing like a seed in the depth of winter. It knows
that the moment we are born, we begin to die. It knows
that all of life shimmers, in shades of becoming
—that shadow and light are always together,
the visible mingled with the invisible.
When we sit in stillness we are profoundly active.
Keeping silent, we can hear the roar of existence.
Through our willingness to be the one we are,
We become one with everything.