It Is Hard Being Wedded to the Dead

River of LifeImage: River of Life © Jan Richardson

A Reading for All Saints Day: Revelation 7.9-17

The Lamb…will guide them to springs of the water of life,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
– Revelation 7.17

For many years, I have loved the days of Halloween, All Saints, and All Souls. This trinity of days from October 31-November 2 is a sacred space in the turning of the year—what Celtic folk have long called a thin place, where past, present, and future intertwine, and the veil between worlds becomes permeable. I learned long ago that it’s important to pay attention to what happens in these days. Mostly what happens is that the days offer a window onto my life—a perspective that, however subtly, shifts how I see my path. But sometimes these days offer a doorway, a new threshold that changes everything.

Gary and I began dating on Halloween, the eve of All Saints. As our life together unfolded, the sense of crossing a sacred threshold with him, of walking together through a door of mystery, wonder, and love, never disappeared.

It seems beyond belief that this year, when our church celebrates All Saints Day, Gary’s name will be among those read in the litany of remembrance; that, as for each of the beloved ones who have died in the past year, a bell will sound for my husband, who has crossed a threshold that is beyond my reach. Yet the Feast of All Saints assures us that even here, in the depth of our grief and loss, there is a doorway, a place where the worlds touch.

As I approach this first All Saints Day since Gary’s death, I am pressing my ear to that door. In the depth of my sorrow, I am learning that Gary and I still have thresholds to cross; that mystery and wonder abide, drawing us more and more deeply into the love that has little regard for matters such as death and time.

This is a poem that came in the early days of grieving, as I was first beginning to reckon with Gary’s dying and with the love that has kept making itself known. I offer it to you as an All Saints gift, a talisman to hold onto as you remember your own beloved ones. May our love be more fierce than our grief, more enduring than our tears. Blessings.

It Is Hard Being Wedded to the Dead

It is hard
being wedded
to the dead;
they make different claims,
offer comforts
that do not feel comfortable
at the first.

They do not let you
remain numb.
Neither do they allow you
to languish forever
in your grief.

They will safeguard
your sorrow
but will not permit
that it should become
your new country,
your home.

They knew you first
in joy,
in delight,
and though they will be patient
when you travel
by other roads,
it is here
that they will wait
for you,
here they can best
be found

where the river runs deep
with gladness,
the water over each stone
singing your
unforgotten name.

– Jan Richardson

For a previous reflection on All Saints, click the image or title below.

A Gathering of Spirits
For Those Who Walked With Us

An Advent Journey…

ILLUMINATED 2014 — Registration now open!
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23 Responses to “It Is Hard Being Wedded to the Dead”

  1. Carol Westphal Says:

    So appreciate your profound honesty, your profound hope. Thank you.

  2. Maureen Says:

    So beautiful a poem, Jan. Blessings.

  3. Marjun Blishen Says:

    Such a challenging time, but one we mustn’t run from. A time to remember ,but it is so hard not to pretend that this is just all a dream ,that will hopefully go away. If we have the courage to stick with it, something beautiful will spring forth. Thank you for sharing:).

  4. Cynthia Helton Says:

    When I was a teenager, I lost my father. Shortly afterwards, I lost my mother. I felt adrift in my young life, feeling cheated by having no parents to guide me, or love me. It’s only now – in the autumn of my life – that I have come to understand that they’ve been here all along, in the “thin place” you mention. Thank you Jan, for sharing your story and allowing us to look at loss through a different lens.

  5. Bob Says:

    Beautiful, forthright, encouraging poem.

  6. Kathleen Says:

    Thank you for sharing your grief and your soul’s journey so openly. Those of us who have walked the walk of losing a partner can appreciate the beauty and sadness of your sharing. It took a long time, but I can look back today and know that I would not have done much of what I have done without going through that door of loss. It is not a door I would choose, but I can see today that it opened new doors.

  7. Kathy Donley Says:

    Your poem is so beautiful. I have not (yet) experienced the kind of loss you have, and yet what you have said strikes me as so very deeply true. It is also the sort of thing you might have chosen to keep private. Thank you very much for choosing to share it.

  8. Cathi Everett Says:

    Thank you Jan. It has been almost 10 years since we lost our son, and when reading a chapter in my psychology textbook about child development, the unexpected ache came back. I had to put the book down and work on another assignment altogether. It is not easy being a mother to the dead either. Grief is very painful and it relaxes from a hurricane to gentle waves on the beach, but the storm is still beyond our control. I am so sorry for your pain Jan.

  9. Dan Schneider-Bryan Says:

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful expression for All Saints

  10. Pat Nelson Says:

    Jan, Thank you so much for your poetry and beautiful reflection on the Triduum of these days of remembrance. I made your Lent Retreat last year as I journeyed with my Father through his passing over to new life. Your grief touched mine often and freed me to welcome and hold grief gently. Thank you for your courage and vulnerability and searching…. Your pain has given mine strength to await the joy and delight.

  11. Rosalie Nelson Says:

    so good to connect with you again thru the item I rec’d about your Advent offering…I will definitely consider it….so glad to hear you are doing well,
    but I know it is hard…it’s been 3 yrs since my husband died.

  12. Rhonda Hardin Says:

    Dear Jan, the anniversary of my dear Jay’s passing is Nov 3. I didn’t connect it to All saints Day! But I know this year, year 2 I feel closer to him in death this year than I did the first year. I had too much fear last year and it took me awhile to get close to the new Jay. He is all around me now and thanks for the message to listen closely to these days!

  13. Jennifer Jones Says:

    I have never experienced such a relationship. To say you are fortunate sounds inappropriate given Gary’s untimely physical departure from you and doesn’t lessen the pain. I will remember Gary on All Saints and pray for you.

  14. Nancy Says:

    Beautiful words! Thank you for sharing your pain and joy.

  15. Mary Beth Packard Says:

    I am so sorry you are having to go through such crushing pain. But to have had such intense love comes with that risk, it seems. Most never do have such love, little solace in this time of memories for you. I pray for you in this time of sorrow and grief.
    Love your “take to the road” and “coming home” metaphors.

  16. Jan Richardson Says:

    Friends, thank you so much for your beautiful words, your prayers, your stories. I am grateful for your thoughtfulness and your companionship on the path. As All Saints Day approaches, know that I am holding you in prayer, especially as you remember your beloved ones. May there be comfort in your remembering, and may a thin place open for you in these days. Many blessings to you.

  17. Bill Says:

    This is amazingly good–in a life-giving way. I am struck by the way the Eucharist brings together the past, present, and future, in such a way that it weds us to the dead (call him Jesus) and yet brings us to joy and delight. You make me want to use your poem as a text for the sermon.

  18. jeanne Everhart Says:

    My daughter just showed me this site. My husband of 47 years passed away in January and your poem “It Is Hard Being Wedded to the Dead” touched my heart. I am so happy to find your inspirational thoughts expressed so poetically.

  19. Linda Thomsen Says:

    This is so very beautiful, Jan. It speaks to all the moments of my losses,
    and bids me come ~ ~ and heal.

  20. joan payton Says:

    Jan, thank you!Bill died over six yrs. ago and I walk thru the pain of grief daily…the joys of memories lessons that to an extent….So miss Bill and his humor, intimacy,our spiritual journey together…it goes on and on. We are blessed to have had these wonderful relationships….thanks be to God!

  21. suzanne duchesne Says:

    thinking of you…

  22. Cheryl Shuster Says:

    So grateful to have received this poem via my neighbor/ dear friend in whose church the poem was read on All Souls’ Day, in Toronto Ontario, Canada. I lost my husband of 39 years suddenly in December 2012, and it is the most difficult reality to adjust to. I know where you are. I received your poem on the second anniversary of his passing. Poerty has really been important to me over the past 2 years and yours is one of the best I have discovered in terms of being life affirming, painful and comforting at the same time. Clearly a large piece of your heart is in it. The imagery of the river of gladness is sooo beautiful. My husband also played guitar and sang and so I share that with you too. A dear friend of mine is also a bereaved spouse and I passed the poem onto him, and today in Kingston, Ontario Canada, he is sharing the poem with his bereavement group. Wishing you strength and wellness Jan, and I wanted to let you know how far your fabulous poem has travelled.

  23. Kel Says:

    Powerful, powerful, powerful! I especially appreciate you pointing out the holiness of the other-than-Good-Friday-to-Easter three-day sacred space: Halloween-All Saints-All Souls. I also always have especially felt it, now even more thanks to your openness in sharing–heavy heartbeats, soul-move. Blessed and continuing wedding to the dead-yet-alive Gary and you! Alleluia, alleluia!

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