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Moments to Mark Our Dead

Personal Perspective: What can you do to treasure loved ones who have passed on?

Key points

  • Holidays can be hard to endure when we are grieving.
  • Some cultures have holidays, like the newly recognized Matariki, that specifically honor the dead.
  • What can you do on the solstice to treasure the love of your person?

Wherever you live in the world, wherever you are reading this, there are no doubt multiple holidays and anniversaries that remind you of your dead—whether you like it or not. Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, death-day anniversaries, and birthdays all roll around with alarming regularity. Not to mention having to get through Christmas, Easter, Valentine’s Day, Thanksgiving, and every other long weekend without our loved ones here. As the bereaved, we tend to dread these poignant days that seemingly stretch out into eternity.

Here in Aotearoa, New Zealand, today marks a public holiday of a different kind. Friday, June 24th, is close to the shortest day in the Southern Hemisphere and the first time we celebrate Matariki as a nation. Marking the start of the new year according to the lunar calendar, Matariki is something of a watershed moment for our bi-cultural nation. Not only because this is the first time indigenous traditions and practices have been recognized with a public holiday in this country, but also because of what it means for us, the bereaved. For the first time ever, we have a holiday that puts remembering our dead at the very center of the day.

Erik Witsoe/Unsplash
Gathering together to remember those we still love and think about.
Source: Erik Witsoe/Unsplash

In the Māori world, the coming together of the Matariki star cluster is honored by remembering those who are gone, celebrating the present by gathering to feast with family and friends, looking forward to the year ahead, and making plans for the future.

I’ve been eagerly anticipating this long weekend like I never have since Abi died. Throughout this weekend, I don’t have to dread thinking about the dead; instead, I am encouraged to. Better still, my thoughts, memories, and reflections won’t just be confined to Abi, but to all those I have lost. My brother, my mum, my grandparents, our friends who died with Abi, and my sister’s old friend, Philippa, among others.

As Dr. Rangi Mātāmua, a driving force behind Matariki becoming an official public holiday and a leading expert on Māori astronomy, says: “Who we are is built on the backs of the people that have come before us. It’s about reflecting on the people we’ve lost throughout the year and the lessons they’ve given us. It’s about honoring their memories and thanking them for everything they shared.”

I’m going to relish the opportunity to slow down and cherish our loved ones this Matariki. More than anything having a newly introduced bi-cultural holiday fills me with hope for a better, more inclusive, caring, thoughtful, respectful world.

Where ever you live in the world, whether it’s your shortest or longest day, this weekend marks a milestone. What does your culture do that allows you to connect to your dead? If not, what traditions can you start that might allow you to treasure your person in your own special way on this the longest or shortest day of the year?