All Saints Day is a big deal in New Orleans. According to the Archdiocese of New Orleans, there are 372,037 Catholics in the eight parishes that the archdiocese governs.
It’s a time for family to get together, even if only for a few minutes to pay respects to loved ones who have passed on. For me, I use the time to visit with my favorite aunt and bring her to visit her mom, my grandmother.
This year, heavy rains overnight put a somber mood on the day. I went to pick up my aunt from her home in Treme, and we started our journey to St. Louis Cemetery No. 3.
First, we went to Adrian’s Christian Flowers on Carrollton Avenue. The business is family owned, and my family has been going there for years. We got the flowers from my grandmother’s funeral there in 1996, so it only made sense that we’d get her some bouquets from the same place. When I gave them my aunt’s name, the woman at the counter knew I wasn’t the same person and walked outside to greet my 78-year-old aunt in the car before giving me the flowers. She asked me and my aunt to come back after we went to the grave because she was baking cookies.
When we got to the cemetery, I was pleased to see signs out saying that no visitors were allowed today. After all, it’s a Holy Day of Obligation, and honestly any other day, I would’ve had to fight with groups of people just to drive into the cemetery.
My aunt stood on the side while I took a few wilting bouquets out of the vases to add our new ones. We both stood there for a few minutes, satisfied that the grave fit in with others along the row. Everything was fresh and new around it, with bright flowers as if they had just closed the grave.
Usually, at this point, my family gathers around and prays in front of the grave, but today with the gray skies and drizzle, no one else was there except my aunt and me. She decided to get back in the car, leaving me alone.
Whenever I’m at the grave, it’s always silent, and the somberness of the weather added to me realizing that one day, we’d all be in this grave or one like it. I put my hands over my grandmother’s name and began talking to her like I always do. I imagine she’s on the other side, with her hands up to the front of the grave too. I wonder if over these 20 years she’s watched me sit outside on the other end of the marble slab and hears me pour out my soul about life that has gone on without her.
Usually, I sit and cry at the grave for a few minutes. I didn’t want to do that today because it was the day I was supposed to be happy to give my grandmother new flowers and make sure her final resting place was still in good condition. So I waited until I got in the car. My aunt, who is two years younger than my grandmother was when she died, held my hand until I calmed down. We drove slowly towards the exit and looked at other graves, which were bright and colorful. All I could think about were the other families who must have come throughout the day to make sure they took care of their loved ones, even after they’re gone.
I made sure to take my aunt back to Adrian’s and sure enough, there were two bags of fresh, warm cookies waiting for us.
“I do this one day out of the year only,” the woman said. “Only for my All Saints Day people.”