Equinox Vigil is your chance to deal with grief, embrace your mortality — and celebrate
CALGARY—Research shows that 100 per cent of people will die.
That’s a joke registered social worker and death, dying and bereavement expert Janet Arnold tells at the beginning of each semester in her Topics in Death and Dying course at Mount Royal University.
But even though death affects all of us, Arnold said as a society, we’re bad at talking about it.
“As a North American culture, we tend not to acknowledge and recognize grief, or even death,” Arnold said.
“The professional and North American society tends to give people three to five days for a bereavement leave. But grief is a process, it can take a long time.”
However, she said there have been movements that are changing the way we talk about death, one of them being Saturday’s Equinox Vigil at the historic Union Cemetery.
The event, now in its seventh year, was inspired by both ancient and contemporary traditions that address death and celebrate the natural cycle of life and death from around the globe.
Each year on the fall equinox, people of all ages and beliefs gather in historic Union Cemetery.
There — surrounded by live music, art installations, prayer flags and glowing lanterns — the public is welcome to spend an evening remembering and reflecting on the way death has touched their lives.
Sharon Stevens, founder and curator, said she wanted to bring an event like this to Calgary because she was still struggling with the death of her father.
“I found the funeral and ways to respond to him after didn’t quite meet my level of spirituality or what I’m interested in,” Stevens said.
“As an artist, I look at creative ways to express life and death, so it’s been on my mind since he died 23 years ago. I was inspired because Vancouver had an event like this.”
She reached out to the Vancouver organizers and soon after, brought it to Calgary.
“I feel an honour and privilege that we were able to do this for Calgarians,” Stevens said.
“It’s not morbid. It’s not super sad. There’s lots of hugs and camaraderie. There’s a shrine dedicated to pets,” Stevens said.
Arnold said events like this can help with the healing process. They also can show that there are different ways to grieve, which is important to recognize.
“We may experience it differently. Every path through grief is unique, but death is an equalizer, and how we choose to deal with that is how we differ,” Arnold said.
“It’s a way for people to come together and create community … it’s a way of saying we acknowledged this happened and I’m not alone, you’re not alone.”
This year, Stevens said there is an emphasis on grief surrounding climate change and world events.
“It’s not just climate change, but our summers of being closed in, refugees moving all over the planet, I think people are also coming to this event feeling all of that,” Stevens said.
Ashlee Cunsolo, director of the Labrador Institute, specializes in the topics of climate change, mental health and ecological grief.
For the past 10 years, Cunsolo has been studying the mental impact the changing environment has on Inuit people in Labrador.
“People were expressing strong emotions, including grief, mourning and sadness, and talking about how hard it is to witness the changes and experiencing them.”
Cunsolo said more people are expressing ecological grief and loss related to what’s happening in the world.
“It really is something that we need to take seriously, and more and more people are expressing it and advocating for it,” Cunsolo said.
“You can see shifts in mental health practices, too. There are a lot of psychologists who are focusing on the field of ecopsychology … (events like this) are a really healthy approach for people to come together and talk about these things.”