The nature of life under COVID has made Calgarians’ mental health a concern.
Rates of anxiety and depression are rising, and this climate of uncertainty can make unexpected events, like the sudden losses in one’s life, even more difficult to process.
That’s one of the reasons Sharon Stevens decided to revive the Equinox Vigil, a non-denominational event where Calgarians can reflect on death and loss.
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“2020 is the year of a lot of different losses and changing, so it’s a time to do reflection at this time of year,” said Stevens.
“I choose [autumn] equinox timing purposely because we are ending a season and moving into a more dormant reflective time.”
The Equinox Vigil features artist-led performances, shrines and memorials to help people come to terms with death and celebrate life. Though the event was discontinued in 2018 for financial reasons, the new normal of screen-based meetings allowed Stevens to bring the event back in an online format.
Event goes virtual
On Sept. 19, the Equinox Vigil will hold a live streamed, one-hour event featuring performances by artists, musicians, authors and poets.
“The equinox itself is normally a 3-hour event, where people wander around Union Cemetery and discover things. For the most part, it’s about feeling fully enveloped in the cemetery,” said Stevens.
“I’m hoping to recreate that but I know it won’t be that close.”
Still, there are silver linings. The online format means Stevens expects far more people will be able to participate in the event. She’s expecting a few hundred people to attend virtually.
For Stevens, the reasons to hold an event like this one are many.
She said Western society can seem “deathphobic” and that her time in Mexico seeing day of the dead practices, like honouring deceased family members, and general openness about death, made her want to bring that level of awareness back to Calgary.
Another reason for the Vigil is it provides some ritual and direction around death for those who otherwise would not have any.
“If you have a religion, any religion, you kind of know what to do,” said Stevens.
“But if you don’t, or you’re more spiritual than religious, oftentimes you don’t really know what to do with yourself. There’s no ceremony or ritual, song or poem.”
Space for Calgarians to grieve
The hope is that the event will respond to the need for a space for those outside of traditional religion to reflect and grieve.
Ultimately, Stevens would like the event to leave people feeling empowered to create their own memorializing practices.
“What I’m hoping is that people will just build their own traditions and rituals to memorialize their own loved ones; light a candle, make a little shrine with pictures or a collage, and tell stories.”
Stevens said that though our culture will often say “always remembered, never forgotten” we often don’t talk about our departed loved ones very much, but that to do so can be beneficial.
“Even the power of saying someone’s name is often really impactful,” said Stevens.
The Equinox Vigil will be live-streamed Sept. 19 from 7 to 8 pm. For more information, visit equinoxvigil.ca.