A Season to Remember and Give Thanks

Sylvia Castelino Derby   |   November 25, 2020 

November began with a time to remember those who have passed away and it ends with Thanksgiving (in the United States). It’s a beautiful way to end a difficult year – to take time “to remember” and “be thankful”.

Many Christian traditions celebrate November 1 as All Saints' Day. Catholic traditions also celebrate November 2 as All Souls' Day or Dia de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead) in Mexico . It is a time to remember our ancestors, friends and family who have gone before us. I grew up celebrating All Souls' Day faithfully every year by going to mass, lighting candles and placing flowers at the cemetery and remembering our loved ones who had passed away. At the time, I would go through the motions of doing as my parents did or required me to do, but not truly understanding the significance of these days. Now that I’m older I find the days so much more meaningful.

This year we attended a gathering organised by our friend who pastors a church and the service was called “Gathering in the Dark – Dia de los Muertos”. She says;

We have fully entered the fall season, a time when darkness grows and light fades. To western cultural and Christian church traditions, darkness has often represented evil, death and chaos. Yet what if we need the dark as much as the light? How can we face the gathering darkness, let our senses adjust to the unknown, and even welcome the night as a space of Divine presence and creativity? Dia de los Muertos offers us a way to welcome the dark, to remember loved ones.

I have never thought of darkness and death as inviting. I most often don’t want to think or talk about death – neither mine nor my loved one’s. Usually during the winters, when the days are short and it gets dark quickly, I feel quite gloomy. I find it hard to welcome the night. And yet when I reflect, during the darkest moments in my life, I have grown the most. It reminds me of the verse: “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1: 5)

While darkness persists, the light continues to shine. As we go through these dark times of the pandemic, the division between people, the political unknowns, and where it feels like love is often absent, my hope is we find courage to face the darkness and be the light where needed. But more, we guard fiercely the light that brings and spreads peace and love. India just celebrated the festival of lights, Diwali, which celebrates the triumph of light over darkness and good over evil. My prayer is that the true light and goodness of unity, of love and care for one another, will triumph over forces that bring division and harm.

As we gathered that night for Dia de los Muertos, we brought pictures and memories of those we remembered. I brought a picture and a card with me. The picture was of my brother Sunil, his baby boy, my mom and me drinking coffee at a café. It was the only time we were all together at a café. My mom never really went out much. But my brother loved my parents and wanted my mom to feel special.

My brother was smiling in the photo. I remember my brother’s smile, how he loved music and loved life. He desired to work and support his family. He was resilient and had a strong will to fight the cancer.

The card was my brother’s last card to me when I turned 25 years old. He never really expressed himself, but he loved me. When I read the card, I remember how proud he was of his little sister. “You are my best friend, you listen to what’s on my mind. You make me so proud of you and you bring me so much happiness,” the card says.

Standing there at the Dia de los Muertos ceremony, memories of my brother came alive like they were yesterday. That time to remember created space to grow closer to my brother. It helped me acknowledge his presence in my life.

When we remember family and friends who have passed away, they become more intimate to us. We can move from grieving our loved one’s loss to celebrating their life. Henri Nouwen describes it beautifully,

"The absence might lead to the awareness of a new presence. In their absence we can develop a new intimacy with them and grow. In this way mourning can slowly turn into joy, and grief into rebirth."

2020 has been a difficult year. Our lives have changed in ways we could not have imagined before the year began. We’ve probably all lost someone or have something that we are grieving about. As the end of the year approaches, I hope you can take time to remember, to acknowledge the feelings of loss, release grief’s burdens and recognise and welcome the new things God is doing in your life. This process of remembering and letting go helps us move from grieving loss to celebrating life.

November ends with Thanksgiving in America and I personally love Thanksgiving because we intentionally reflect on things we are grateful for. Families come together for a meal and enjoy fellowship with each other. As we reflect on the past year, especially how hard this year has been, no matter where we are, whether or not we celebrate Thanksgiving, I hope each of us can take a day to pause and reflect on things we are grateful for. Give thanks to God, to those who have stood by us this year, to family and friends who we may take for granted. I’ve learned that saying “thank you” often does something magical – it brings a smile to the heart: for the one who gives thanks, and for the one who receives it.

During this season, may we find courage to face the dark spaces we find uncomfortable, take time to remember, grieve our losses, let go things we need to let go of, celebrate life and be thankful because, as Barbara Brown Taylor says, “New life starts in the dark. Whether it is a seed in the ground, a baby in the womb, or Jesus in the tomb, it starts in the dark.” 


Photo by Carolyn V on Unsplash

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Sylvia Castelino Derby

Sylvia was raised in Bombay, lived in Delhi and most recently moved to Fresno, California with her husband, Jon and toddler, Diya before which she served as the Director of Human Resources for International Justice Mission for nine years. When she can get some free time, Sylvia enjoys some deep conversations with her husband and friends, a good cup of coffee, some time to journal and being by the ocean.

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