Days of the Dead
By Jude LaClaire, Ph.D.
Fall is changing into winter. The unpredictable weather changes let us know that we are in a world of flux. One of the biggest demands on us as humans is to deal with change. This month as we observe the Days of the Dead, the Christian feasts of All Saints, and All Souls Day, we face the reality of the biggest transition of our lives, the reality of death.
This month we are shown a view of death from different traditions. The Days of the Dead is rooted in Mesoamerican, European, and Spanish traditions. In Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, many groups saw death as an integral part of life. The Spanish and then, Mexican traditions, incorporated the custom of welcoming back the souls of the deceased for a brief reunion that includes food, drink, and celebration.
In a very beautiful and moving story, fictionalized in the Pixar movie Coco, we see a young man traveling to the land of the dead. Miguel, because of his love of music, goes to find his ancestor, his great-great-grandmother, Imelda, who banned music because her husband left her to pursue a career in music. In his journey, Miguel meets many trials, sees ancestors, learns valuable lessons of life, and gets the curse lifted.
The journey from life to death is one some find in near-death experiences. These reports have many similarities. There is the journey through time and space. These seem suspended and many reports finding family, spiritual guides, and great peace. Those who have had these experiences also report a great positive change and renewal of purpose in their current lives.
Many traditions believe that between October 31 and November 2, the gates of heaven are opened and that the veil between life and death is dissolved. Catholics believe in interceding with the Saints on November 1 and praying for the release of the souls in purgatory on November 2. In Spain and Mexico flowers, lit candles, and food illuminate the dead souls back to their earthly homes. Now on Halloween, the popular culture has ghosts, goblins, witches, and other characters visiting us. This celebration reminds us of the belief of many cultures and traditions that life and death are inseparable. Death is a part of life that is important to our journey.
Our lives provide us with mini experiences of loss and change preparing us for the great loss experienced through death. Facing loss and change is an integral part of life. Hopefully, it can teach us patience, courage, resilience, and love. It is part of the grand human experience. If we did not love, death would not hurt so much. We struggle with this mystery. Our mainstream culture has hidden death in denial and a medical oath to preserve life at any cost. This has left us with few resources to deal with death, grief and loss.
By embracing some of the traditions like Days of the Dead, All Souls, and All Saints Days, we can begin opening ourselves to this reality. These can be occasions for remembering and celebrating those who have passed from this world, while at the same time seeing death in a more positive light, as an integral part of the human experience.
We are also seeing an increase in hospice programs. Some are quite good at providing assistance to those who are ill and their families. A colleague of mine is a Music Therapist working in a hospice program.
There is also a movement to have death doulas working with the person who is facing their death. A death doula is a person who assists in the dying process, much like a doula or midwife does with the birthing process. They support people emotionally, physically, spiritually, and practically.
More people are requesting to be at home with their family and loved ones. They can be with people who care for them as they make this transition. Many are asking for mild sedatives and pain relief medication so they will be lucid for their final moments in this earthly body.
There are ways to have more natural processes after death with no embalming, simpler caskets, and other ways of handling the deceased’s body after death. Cremation has become more popular we well.
As we visit this time of year, let us all work on thinking more positively about death. We have all lost people we love, and we live in a culture that has daily death reports from various causes. Let us think of both the living and those who have passed to the next realm of existence. Perhaps we can find that veil to be penetrable, illuminating a clearer understanding of the connection of this life with death. Making friends with death will help our lives become fuller and more joyful, knowing the transition is part of the entire journey of life.
Jude LaClaire, Ph. D., LCPC is a counselor and educator at the Heartland Holistic Health Center. She is the author of the “Life Weaving Education Curriculum” that teaches creative, effective, holistic problem solving. For counseling appointments, seminars, in-service training or speaker’s bureau, call 816-509-9277 or email@example.com; www.heartlandholistic.com