Why do people remember the day someone died
By Anne Christiane Lüters, from the special "The Time of Mourning" of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria
For people, rituals mean that they shape times of uncertainty, upheaval and the threat of disorientation. They provide support and security and give a feeling of security.
At the same time, rituals are always accompanying processes of change, threshold situations on the path of life and initiations into a new dimension of life. They always open up access to a spiritual dimension. In the context of dying and death, rituals are therefore of particular importance.
In addition to the official burial ritual, there are countless small and large rituals that help mourners to structure the time and to shape and survive the time of uncertainty - also about their own emotions. Not every ritual is right for everyone. Here it is important to pay careful attention to which gestures and actions promote one's own grief work and which are more of a hindrance.
For many mourners, regular visits to the grave are a very important fixed point in the period after the funeral. In this place they feel close to the deceased, have a mental dialogue or let the tears run free. The design and maintenance of the grave also has an important function here. If the visit is always combined with the same journey at a similar time of day, then it becomes a loved, indispensable appointment with the deceased in the daily or weekly routine.
Some relatives feel the need to put up a picture of their deceased in the room and to leave their place in the house - for example at the table - free. Instead of covering the deceased as usual, some people set up a candle or a bouquet of flowers for them at the table - as a token of remembrance and also for the hope of seeing them again.
Remembering and storytelling helps to come to terms with the loss. Relatives make it clear to themselves what the deceased person meant to them, what they lost with them and what part of their shared history they want to keep. Often this narration happens quite casually. It becomes a ritual when time is deliberately planned for remembrance on certain days, when pictures are viewed together or alone, the deceased is thought, told, laughed and cried. Some also deliberately go to the places that played an important role in life together.
Prayer - alone or in a Christian community - becomes important for many Christians in times of mourning. It helps to collect one's thoughts and to unload one's pain, anger and worries about the future with God.
Mourning periods are already mentioned in the Old Testament. The year of mourning can mean something like protection. This year there are numerous anniversaries to experience for the first time: the first Christmas, the first wedding anniversary without the deceased, the first anniversary of death. The custom of the year of mourning wants to mark the required area of protection: Here someone lives in a special situation. It is important to take this into account.
The first Christmas without a loved one - many relatives don't even want to think about it. But that is precisely why it is advisable to think about this day at an early stage. Who would you like to have with you on this special evening of the year? Or is it just not possible to endure closeness and community? How do you want to include the deceased? Is a visit to the cemetery planned, and if so, with whom? Which services are good and which bring back memories that are too painful? Mourners help their families when they speak as clearly as possible about their needs. And friends help mourners if they offer them closeness while respecting their need to withdraw. Be patient with yourself and others. It is enough if you get through the first Christmas party well.
Birthday or wedding day
Of course, on these days all thoughts go to the deceased. Memories of birthday parties come back - maybe last year you celebrated carefree. Some families deliberately come together on this day. They go to the cemetery together and do something that the deceased would have liked - difficult as it is. It is very good for most family members when friends remember the deceased's birthday and express this in a letter or perhaps a phone call.
There are two times in the church year that take up the theme of death and mourning: Passion time and Eternal Sunday.
When looking at the suffering of Jesus Christ and the mourning of his disciples, in Good Friday sermons, passion devotions and other worship services, today's dying, pain and mourning are also looked at and placed in the horizon of Christian resurrection hope.
Protestant parishes actually commemorate the dead on Eternity Sunday, the Sunday before the first Advent. In many places, the relatives of the deceased from the previous year were not specifically invited. In church services, the names of the deceased are often read out and candles are lit for them. The deceased and their loved ones are included in the intercession. Some families take this as an opportunity to get together again and visit the cemetery together.
A year has passed since the death. The events are now in quick succession: the last days with the deceased, the day of death, the day of the funeral. During this time, the pain can still flare up violently: Once again, the past experiences and feelings come very close. And yet time has passed. Relatives have learned: Life without the deceased is painful, but possible. So with all the sadness there is also gratitude and hope. It is good to take the time to visit the cemetery or church together, or to meet relatives on this day. Friends and acquaintances can use calls or cards to show that they have not forgotten the deceased and their family.
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