A light shining in darkness: Cemeteries illuminate paths with loved ones’ names

Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Southfield and Our Lady of Hope Cemetery in Brownstown Township (pictured) hosted an All Souls Drive Thru on Nov. 7 to commemorate the dead buried at the cemeteries. Families decorated “luminary bags” with the names of the deceased accompanied by a particular message. (Photo combination by Valaurian Waller | Detroit Catholic)

Names of deceased placed on ‘luminary bags’ lining driveways at Holy Sepulchre, Our Lady of Hope cemeteries during All Souls event

SOUTHFIELD  Cemeteries aren’t for the dead; they’re for the living.  

It was that guiding principle that led two Catholic cemeteries — Holy Sepulchre in Southfield and Our Lady of Hope in Brownstown Township — to commemorate the dead by offering families and friends the opportunity to remember them in a special way Nov. 7.

During the cemeteries’ annual All Souls Drive-Thru, families were invited to decorate “luminary bags” honoring deceased loved ones. The bags then lined the roadways at the two cemeteries, illuminating the pathways as motorists drove through, said Deanna Cortese, outreach director for Catholic Funeral and Cemetery Services, a ministry of the Archdiocese of Detroit. 

“We have families take bags to decorate at home or in the office,” Cortese told Detroit Catholic. “The gates of the cemeteries were opened late in the evening for families to come in, drive through and say a prayer with a prayer sheet we have provided.” 

Catholic Funeral and Cemetery Services staff distribute prayer cards as motorists make their way through the paths during the All Souls Drive Thru on Nov. 7 at Our Lady of Hope Cemetery. 

A candle is placed in each bag to illuminate the message on the bag, a symbol of Christ’s light that shines through the darkness of death, a light that first shined at the Resurrection and continues to shine today.  

“We typically have 1,000 bags that people decorate in some manner,” Cortese said. “Some of the bags say, ‘I miss you;’ some choose to write loved ones a letter or a message. The kids get involved, decorating the bags for whoever they are missing: their grandparents, parents, aunts or uncles. It involves everyone who comes to the cemetery.” 

This is the third year Catholic Funeral and Cemetery Services has organized the All Souls Drive Thru. Normally, there would be a prayer service and an opportunity for mourners to gather at the mausoleum, but COVID-19 restrictions limited this year’s commemoration as visitors stayed in their cars throughout the drive thru. 

“There is something healing about coming to the cemetery and remembering your loved one in a way, knowing they are in their final resting place, writing their name on a bag for all to see, being able to share that moment, that memory with a loved one with the world,” Cortese said. 

Mourners wrote the names of deceased loved ones on luminary bags with a candle placed inside the bag to illuminate the name along with a special message.

Maryann Peters, a daily visitor at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, made luminary bags for her husband, Larry, and friend, Lorraine, and walked through the path to get a better read on the message on each bag. 

“I think it’s a nice tribute,” Peters said. “As you go through (the path), you read what others have said; it’s a nice feeling. What I put on mine was, ‘Honey, I think about you every day.’ And for Lorraine, ‘You are missed and loved; your family and friend.’”

Peters visits the cemetery every day, often walking through. In the three years Catholic Funeral and Cemetery Services has hosted the All Souls Drive Thru, she has participated. 

We like to say, the cemetery is for the living,” Cortese said, commenting on others who frequent the cemetery grounds. “We know where our loved ones are: with the Lord. This is really something we do for those left behind to remember and pray for (them) as a healing act. We’ve been doing this for three years, and it’s one of my favorite events.” 

Cemetery staff make a point to contact families who have loved ones buried there, checking in and providing consistent pastoral care. 

Other initiatives, such as the All Souls Day Masses on Nov. 2 or the “Gather Them Home” campaign, in which cemeteries accept cremated remains for free, are part of the organization’s mission to remember the dead with dignity, Cortese said. 

“One of my favorite parts of the job is cultivating these relationships with our families,” Cortese said. “By inviting them to an event or a Mass or a rosary walk, we are remembering that connection they had with their loved ones. It’s about joining in community — that among other believers, we believe our loved ones are not truly gone. They are still here, and we will see them again.” 

The All Souls Drive Thru is an opportunity to show the dead are still part of the Church, and the living have the obligation to pray for them, Deanna Cortese said. 

Catholic Funeral and Cemetery Services will host a Remembrance Christmas Tree Event Dec. 1 at Holy Sepulchre and Dec. 2 at Our Lady of Hope Cemetery. Families are invited to decorate an ornament with a deceased’s name on it. Contact Deanna Cortese at (734) 285-2155 for more details.