Last night at Eddie’s Music Night, I unzipped the ukulele case and sang a song in memory of my late friend, Jim Hawthorne – a fine musician who played in an early 60s band, the Tonebeats. Then I sang one in honour of the late Andy Brown, the whole town’s favourite music teacher, year-round shorts-and-bells wearer.

Today I’ll be making oatcakes – always in honour of my late Mum.

Last week, I conducted a funeral in beautiful Binning Wood (I know, an unusual hobby), and encouraged those present to think of ways they could commemorate their lost friend in their daily lives.

So how do we bring the departed folk to mind? For churchgoers, there are services around All Saints and All Souls, on 1 and 2 November. These are intertwined with the ancient roots of our Hallowe’en traditions, as I wrote about last month. It can be incredibly powerful to say prayers for those we’ve lost, light candles and sing as we contemplate what they meant to us. You feel part of the whole community of those who grieve, and may even feel reconnected with those you lost in a profound way.

In Mexico, as you’ll know, they celebrate the Day of the Dead with picnics at the graves of ancestors, placing candles and flowers, tending the graves. But such customs exist in many countries:

Gaijatra is celebrated in Nepal, and is a Hindu tradition. It is known as the “festival of cows,” as cows are considered to be holy and to help guide the recently deceased. During this festival, cows (or children dressed as cows) are walked in a procession throughout towns to help family members who have lost a significant person in the last year. “Gaijarta is a light-hearted celebration of death, meant to help people accept death as a reality and to help ease the passing of those who have died.” –

Even here in Scotland, we would once have carried out similar practices – such as setting a place at the table to welcome the spirit of the dead family member, or (as mentioned last month) carving a tumshie lantern for the window, so they could see their way back.

Grieving can often be a very private matter in modern western society, which is understandable when we feel overcome with the loss. But there is a great power in feeling part of a larger community when it comes to such a universal emotion. Festivals are one way of processing that.

But our discomfort with the subject may make us avoid those who remind us of our own mortality. And for those facing their own death, if diagnosed with a terminal illness, there is (for most, not all) a profound need not to be forgotten or hidden away, however awkward the rest of us may feel when we encounter the dying or newly bereaved.

Community Connections has worked with many members who are in one or other of these situations, so we know that death and dying are major factors in isolation. It doesn’t need to be that way. That’s why we included a partnership with North Berwick Compassionate Community in our Lottery application this year. Now we can take that forward, with Compassionate Neighbours: ‘Compassionate Neighbours offer emotional and social support to local people who may be lonely or socially isolated and have a life limiting condition.’ Stay tuned for more on that soon, and see Deborah’s article in Novembers newsletter.

Meantime, let me recommend a wonderful resource for anyone pondering how we can learn to talk about death more easily as a society. The Good Life, Good Death, Good Grief website has a wealth of materials and ideas for you! Its intention is ‘to create a Scotland where everyone knows how to help when someone is dying or grieving.’ Does that sound like something you’d like to be part of? We will be – please join us.

And in November, why not create or revive your own ritual for remembering someone you’ve lost – perhaps it’s baking their special recipe, singing or listening to their favourite song or walking in that special place – or lighting that candle for them some evening? We’re with you on that, and we’ll see you soon.

Carol Stobie, Project Officer