I was not looking forward to Labor Day weekend. Since my dad was born in early September, we always celebrated his birthday then. This was our first year without him and I wasn’t sure how the weekend would go.
The Sunday prior to holiday weekend, my mom commented that the 29th marked the fifth month since his passing. Since they were married for over 65 years, I can understand that her loss is measured more acutely than mine. It’s a sobering thought that within the space of a week, we remembered my Dad on the two limits of life: birth and death. But those limits are what humans place on life because that’s the measure we understand.
I planned a visit to the columbarium, as I was concerned that the weekend would feel empty and odd. While I knew I would be missing him, at least visiting his resting place could provide a sense of peace that I did something. Yet while I was there, I kept wondering what did the birthdate mean any longer? The birthdate is only when he was born into the physical world. His death date, however, is when he passed into eternal life. At that moment, my human mind could not wrap itself around this concept and I kept trying to push away the thought.
Part of human nature is to measure and categorize. Since we cannot usually tell when the moment of conception occurs, the next big milestone is birth. We measure our whole life against that single day. It’s a memorial for the living to mark the passage of time. However, once a person is no longer with us, the birthday no longer has significance since the person is no longer bound by time and space. Birthdays become rather bittersweet: recalling memories of previous birthdays and marking how old the person would have been.
In contrast, the Church often celebrates saints on the day of their passing. Perhaps this is why the thought kept niggling at my brain. Maybe the better day to celebrate is the day of a person’s passing. While we won’t know if that person is in purgatory or heaven, we hope in the mercy of God and anticipate his or her reception into the beatific vision. Loosed from the bonds of time and space, our loved ones are in a unique position to be both close to us and close to God, petitioning Him on our behalf.
Whether we celebrate a birthday or the death day, or even both, our time-bound humanity can only measure the gain or loss of a person. But no matter if the person is a named saint or a family member, it is our memories of them that cast deep impressions on us and help us to strive to become better versions of ourselves. Perhaps one day they will be the ones to greet us on our death day as we pass from this world into eternal life.