Updated: Dec 6, 2020
My father died a week before Halloween in 1994. Our family mourned his loss, but also, as we came together, we celebrated his life and shared funny stories.
Halloween, one of my favorite holidays, is also known as All Hallows Eve. The eve of what? The Day of the Dead, celebrated on November 1st every year. According to Wikipedia “The Day of the Dead is a Mexican holiday celebrated in Mexico and elsewhere associated with the Catholic celebrations of All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day. The multi-day holiday involves family and friends gathering to pray for and to remember friends and family members who have died.”
In an effort to remember and honor those who have died before, those who celebrate, visit cemeteries and offerings of favorite foods are made at impromptu altars. I have tried, but I can’t even think of what my father’s favorite food was.
I have witnessed this celebration while working for a funeral home several years ago. I was impressed. Mariachi bands were playing and children, dressed in their Sunday best, tried to be respectful as they ran around through the cemetery. It was very festive and colorful.
Latter-day Saints or Mormons honor their dead through the practice of vicarious ordinances performed in their temples. These include baptism for the dead, as well as other rites, to insure the ancestor has access to all of the saving ordinances they believe are required to obtain all the blessings of heaven. Genealogy has been vital to this practice and is greatly supported by the church.
After considering all the many ways people of different cultures honor their dead, one can see that the rituals and cultural practices are deeply rooted in our particular beliefs about what happens after we die. And that leads me to claim that nobody really knows.
Either we are dust again, or we will live again through the means of resurrection or reincarnation. Science seems to point to the dust again view. But then, what about apparitions or ghosts claimed to be seen by some? And then there’s De-ja vu and what about near-death experiences (NDE)? Inquiring minds are dying to know.
The not knowing can create a real sense of fear and anxiety, so theories and doctrines are proposed, and complex rites are performed to coincide with those beliefs, thus bringing aid and comfort to the living.
Back to my father. The first thing we did after he passed was to search for a burial place and the funeral merchandise requisite for a memorial service. He could have been buried at the national cemetery for no cost due to his service in the Navy, instead his wife chose a cemetery that was closer to her residence so she could go visit him. A few months later, she moved from the area. Whenever I drive up the 15 freeway toward Las Vegas, I always wave to my father, who rests under a tree, near a giant V for veterans.
We chose a slate-blue steel casket, and the headboard contained an embroidery of doves, with one flying in the opposite direction, as if to say it was headed home. He was buried in ritual temple clothing with a white robe and a green apron. I gave a family prayer with close family and friends just prior to his funeral service. At the cemetery, a special ordinance or prayer was given to dedicate his grave as his final resting place until the resurrection. That process gave us all comfort.
Every Halloween, I think of my dad and wish I could have had deeper conversations with him about life. And I wonder if he could tell me, what happens after we die.