November is traditionally the month to remember family members who have died, but Angela Saldanha reminds us to expand that circle to many others, as well as make prayers for the departed a year-round habit. CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn

Angela Saldanha: Prayers for departed needed all year

By  Angela Saldanha
  • November 20, 2019

Traditionally, November is the time when we especially remember to pray for departed family members, friends and (maybe) enemies. 

The older we get, the longer grows the list of souls for whom we pray. But it’s not just this month that our prayers are needed; it’s every month, every day. Being dead (to this life) is ongoing, permanent, full-time. There’s a full-time, year-round need for our intercession.

Those close to us we remember often. I think of my mother, who died far too young. My father, who lived to a venerable age. Two baby brothers. Assorted in-laws and out-laws. My two very best friends.  Souls I knew and loved, whom I look forward to seeing again. 

But what of those whom we never knew personally, who have, in some way, touched our lives? I think often of those who planted trees. In Italy, driving to the beach in the heat of August, our way lay along the Appia, that ancient Roman road bordered on either side by giant umbrella pines. Because of how they’d been pruned, they were exactly that, gigantic umbrellas, casting a delicious shade on the road below. As we drove I would inwardly give thanks for planters of pine trees, men probably long dead,  and hope they were resting in well earned  peace.    

I think about writers. Long gone, many of my favourites. Some, Dickens for one, I positively look forward to meeting “up there” some day.

Likewise, musicians, composers. To read, listen to music that brings tears to the soul, admire paintings and sculptures, knowing that the men and women responsible for these earthly delights no longer walk this Earth, is to recall their existence with gladness. 

There are the artists, there are the scientists. I pop a vitamin pill and think — how many hundreds of people, toiling away, researching for thousands of hours, often in primitive conditions, did it take to come up with a little pill that I so unconcernedly swish down with my coffee? Many of them long since departed. RIP, scientists all.

Then there are what I call “the people of the news.” I had a friend, a nun, who used to pray her way through the evening news. Bus crash, 30 dead.  Hurricane; hundreds feared dead. Earthquake! Mass shootings! Stabbings! Bridge collapsing! Floods! Fires! Ferry sinking! Outbreak of cholera! Bombs!  Every mention of death would elicit from her a fervent “Lord, have mercy on their souls.” 

Reminders of our own dear departed ones are everywhere. I seem to be surrounded by things from those no longer with us. My mother’s rosary box. My father’s letters, nearly 40 years worth of them. Grandmother’s silver soup spoons. Great-grandfather’s silver egg cup. Czechoslovakian crystal from a Czech colleague who died too young. My warm, woollen cape, gift of my friend the nun who no longer needed it; she was returning to her convent in Hawaii. Now deceased, she comes gloriously alive in my mind every time I don that cape; to think of her is to think of the unknown souls she constantly  beseeched God for.     

Photos! Black and white, coloured, prints, digitals. Of faces alive and smiling. Or solemn, stern-faced, rigidly posed. But in my grandparents’ home in India, the walls of the dining room were adorned with pictures taken not in life, but in death.

Opposite my customary place at the huge dining table was a greatly enlarged photo of a great uncle who had died in infancy. Dressed in a little white suit and bow tie, lying tidily in his little white coffin, a candle at his head, tiny hands clasping rosary beads. I spent many mealtimes gazing at him, wondering what it had felt like to die. Other walls bore photos of other uncles, dreamlessly asleep in their coffins, a crucifix clutched in pale, dead fingers. Every mealtime a reminder: death is all around you. 

The family rosary that followed supper would always end with a prayer for the souls of the faithful departed, a prayer that they would rest in peace. Amen.

Not just in November, but all year round. 

(Saldanha is a writer who lives in Ramara, Ont.) 

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