Passed down from one generation to the next, the symbolism of the robin is a powerful one, bringing us together with its message of hope, comfort and love. The swell of emotions and memories stoked by the idea that our loved one is still close, is rooted in something that transcends all of our differences, and binds us together: remembrance.
The concept of remembrance, and all the traditions and ideas that surround it, come into full focus at this time of year. November, the month of remembrance, opens with All Souls Day; a day dedicated to remembering those loved ones who have passed on. Throughout the month, we honour our loved ones passed through masses, memorials and visits to graves or locations of special significance. And while the changing of the seasons and the closing of the year present an appropriate opportunity to pay our respects to the memory of our deceased family and friends, the changing times we have lived through offer the chance to look at remembrance in a new way.
The pandemic presented many obstacles for those of us in mourning over the loss of a loved one. With churches forced to remain closed, how could we organise a mass in their name? With such a limited number of mourners permitted to attend a funeral or memorial service, how dreadful was it to have to turn a friend or relative away? And for those of us who were unable to be with our loved one in their final moments, how to cope with the devastating reality of not being able to say our best goodbye?
In conversations about all that we have endured over the past 20 months, one common theme tends to emerge: by adapting to a new sense of normality, we have survived. This, too, is true of how we have mourned, honoured and remembered our loved ones who have passed on. Without the privilege of being able to say a final goodbye or attend a service, it’s the seemingly little things – memories, photographs, an anecdote or special conversation – that hold so much significance. That is the true power of remembrance.
While November will forever be a special time of the year to dedicate to our loved ones no longer with us, it is important to acknowledge that remembrance – something so inherently sacred to anyone who has lost a loved one – can take place any and every day of the year. Remembrance doesn’t have to be formal; it doesn’t have to happen according to a specific tradition or custom – it can be a loving thought upon hearing an old song, the feeling of comfort from pinning on a piece of heirloom jewellery, or the tears that fall on sight of a dog-eared photo from a perfect day long ago.
It can even be the smile that lifts the corners of your mouth upon the appearance of a little bird.