”...Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) is such an important occasion. It holds that dying and living are not opposites but rather two parts of one process, with just a breath in between.
“Through this lens, death isn’t an antagonist, a horrifying thing we must look away from. Death is festooned with flowers, candles and brightly colored papel picado because Día de Muertos wants us to look squarely at the way things end.
“It wants us to accept it, laugh at it and revere it. The only thing it asks us to not do is ignore it.
“I’ve come to understand that this holiday isn’t about romanticizing the past or about wishing we could bring those who’ve died back to life. Día de Muertos instead asks us to consider that we exist in conversation with the people who came before us and the people who will come after us.
“It says the border between life and death — and every border we encounter in between — is porous. It asserts the joyful fluidity of being alive.”
To repeat: “With just a breath in between.”
In this lovely and eloquent essay in the Washington Post last week, John Paul Brammer walks us through how he and his family, thoroughly assimilated into American culture since his grandparents emigrated from Mexico, came to understand and celebrate Día de Muertos.
If you've been hanging around this blog during the past two-and-a-half years, you know we sometimes talk about death and dying. Ever since I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, I have been working to make my own death acceptable to me or, at least, to find ways to reduce the paralyzing fear that rattled me every time I thought about dying from this terrible disease.
One way took place last Christmas. With the help of an experienced guide, I spent five or six hours under the influence of “magic mushrooms” or psilocybin. Like most others before me, I have never found words to adequately express what transpired that afternoon but it did change me.
The closest I can manage to explain is that I came to see that life and death were two sides of the same door. Not such a dramatic transition after all and it is not far off, is it, from Brammer's “two parts of one process, with just a breath in between?”
From the time of my childhood until recently, hardly anyone talked about death or even referenced it much beyond religion-specific rituals. Apparently that is no longer so.
In our weekly Sunday phone visit, my friend Autumn told me that her six-year-old daughter, Catherine, had learned about Día de Muertos this year in her Spanish-language class.
She told her mother all about how it is celebrated by building an alter and decorating it with flowers and photographs of beloved relatives who have died along with, as Brammer explains too, “sugar skulls and marigolds and offerings of food.”
And so Catherine built a Día de Muertos alter at home to honor her grandfather. Here is a photo of Catherine at her alter.
Maybe the holiday will become as important to Catherine as it has become for John Paul Brammer who writes,
”I still look forward to every October, when the bakeries fill with pan de muerto and sugar skulls. I look forward to the first days of November, when the wall between life and death comes tumbling down, and we, no matter who we are or how far away we’ve traveled, find our way home.”
You can read Brammer's entire essay at the Washington Post. If you do not subscribe to this newspaper or have used up your monthly number of free articles, let me know via the “Contact” link at the top of this page.