Some thoughts on life and death for El día de los muertos
I recently read Smoke Gets in Your Eyes & Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty. The woman behind The Order of the Good Death gives readers an interesting perspective on the life/death experience (if you don’t mind some occasional gory passages).
In her book Doughty references a 1961 paper in the Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology that outlines seven reasons why humans fear dying. The paper suggests that fear of death arises from concerns about
- Grief caused to relatives and friends
- Plans and projects that coming to an end
- The process of dying being painful
- The end of being able to enjoy life experiences
- No longer being able to care for dependants
- What will happen if there is life after death
- What will happen to the body after death
To that list I would add my own personal concern: my house needs a thorough cleaning and things are a little disorganized. I don’t want to leave a mess behind for others to clean up. I know I’m not alone in that: an acquaintance told me she never leaves her house without making sure the kitchen is clean and the beds are made, in case something happens to her when she’s out.
In Europe and North America we don’t like to talk about death. We are “death phobic,” as The Order of the Good Death describes it, which makes it all the more difficult for us when the inevitable happens. Regardless of which of those seven fears resonates most clearly with any one person—and I suspect it’s different for everyone—death comes to us all one way or another.
People in Latin America have a more open approach. Beginning on November 1, El día de los muertos (The Day of the Dead) is a two-day celebration that recognizes death as a natural and necessary process and part of the human experience. During El día de los muertos, the dead share in the celebrations, eating, drinking and being merry with their loved ones.
“. . . let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we shall die.” —Isaiah 22:13
Today I will eat, drink and be merry with some departed loved ones—after I clean the bathrooms.