I love going to a Catholic cemetery. And I believe it is important to take the children. Unfortunately, the first experience many kids have of tombstones involves frightening Halloween decorations -- bloody limbs reaching out of the dirt and webs and spiders everywhere -- encouraging an association between burial and horror. I'd like to teach mine instead that death is the place where God greets souls and welcomes the pure of heart into His kingdom. And to encourage them to pray for those in purgatory. Sin is real. Hell is real. But there is no fear of it rising materially in the grassy rows of headstones.
A cemetery is a place of sorrow and goodbyes. But it is also a place of deepest prayer, serenity, and hope. As they grow, my little ones will learn soon enough how quickly the soul can turn from Christ. And how terrifying that can be. So I hope to give them the gift of Truth and Beauty and clear the cobwebs from places that should be hallowed.
I encourage you to take your children to visit a Christian cemetery. Teach them about holy death. Read the names together and touch the engravings. Pray for the living and the dead.
We picked a recent sunny day and visited our Matthew's grave site. I didn't want to leave. Not because I think he lives there. No. I know that his soul has departed and his body decayed. But because it is beautiful to think of him and to be in that place of peaceful silence. He was born to new life in 2009. My tears are for me, not for him. Because I know the truth about holy death.
We cleared the earth from around the edges and wiped the grave stone where debris and dirt had gathered. Then we circled around his memorial and my husband led us in prayer. The children were reminded that they had a brother. And that this world is not the only place where siblings dance.
When you take your children to the cemetery for the first time, choose a cheerful day and let them run in the grass and explore the names. Let them dance and play respectfully. Let them laugh and wonder out loud. I remember the time that one of our sons discovered a tombstone bearing his full name. And he marveled and wondered about that man. What had he looked like? Where was his soul now? It did not frighten him... it drew him in. Not to death, but to the life of the soul.
Our Matthew is in the baby section where the Catholic cemeteries bury all ages of babies without charge. The little stones are covered with flowers and stuffed animals and birthday cards. On this October day, there were little pumpkins and scarecrows and pretty mums. There was an inflatable green dinosaur and a few hot wheels for the boy who left his parents at 5 years old.
I cried. I always do a little. But my children didn't. They ran and marveled and prayed with us.
Dear Parents... please teach your children that when the soul is right with God, that death is good and holy. And to walk among the headstones is a walk of solidarity with the love of the saints for their heavenly Father. There are no monsters there. No souls remain to walk and terrify. They have been judged and moved on. There is only the sorrow of the living, the love and hope and prayer that we bring when we come...
... And the peace of Christ which passes all understanding.
My children know the cemetery as a place of tearful goodbyes but also afternoon sunshine, and prayer. Their brother's body is buried there. And he is beautiful.
May your feast of All Souls' be filled with joy, hope and may you enter deeply into the mystery of what it means to give all for Jesus Christ.
Thanks be to God!
For an excellent November activity to help children remember to pray and sacrifice for those who have died, check out the Ora Pro Nobis candy boxes at Shower of Roses.