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November 2, 2013

Contemplating Death, Celebrating Life.

Let’s celebrate the lives of our dearly beloved friends, relatives and pets who have passed away.

In Latin America, it’s a sacred time of year to honor them through our memories, stories, prayers and meditations.

Like a lot of kids, I was freaked out by the concepts of death and the afterlife when I initially began to understand them. I remember my grandpa saying he believed that after we die, that’s it. No heaven, no hell. Just black nothingness. Worm food. That sure wasn’t comforting to my already delicate young mind.

Throughout my childhood, Halloween was a fun day that was all about dressing up, trick-or-treating, watching Charlie Brown and Garfield cartoon specials on TV and eating too much candy—not so much about reflecting on death. In my roaring 20s, it was a fun day that was all about dressing up, going to wild costume parties and getting wasted. The only deaths contemplated around Halloween were the ones in bloody horror flicks.

Perhaps this is why I’ve come to appreciate Latin America’s cultural rituals and customs around death. It is not viewed as scary or taboo but rather a natural passage at the end of life.

Today is Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) in Mexico and Día de Todos Santos (All Saints’ Day) here in Guatemala. Crowds gather and rockin’ parties are thrown in the graveyards (which are colorful, vibrant places, not gray and solemn like most U. S. cemeteries).

I’ll admit that I’m not totally over my fear of death, but it is something I feel more and more comfortable with as time marches on. I’ve learned from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition too, and I sometimes even contemplate my own death in meditation or savasana.

What I still resist contemplating are the deaths of my parents, close friends, life partner and especially my daughter. When I was pregnant and nearing delivery, I had a sobbing breakdown, realizing the inevitable truth that by birthing this precious, new being, I was also birthing someone who would die.

The opposite of birth is death. Unpleasant as it may be, death can come at any time, at any age, after a long or short illness, due to violent crime or an inexplicably tragic accident. This fact should make every moment of life one to be grateful for. It really is a miracle just to walk the earth.

I’ll close with two good questions to contemplate today, or any day:

How can we live more fully today, keeping in mind that death will arrive sooner or later?

How do we want to be remembered?

 

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Ed: Sara Crolick

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