I have always had leanings toward the macabre. I would say I probably think about death more often than the average person. Like when brushing my teeth – ‘My teeth will probably be the last remaining part of my physical body’.
I enjoy a peaceful walk around a graveyard, reading the headstones, imaging their lives and families and funerals. I’m intrigued by the way death is dealt with in different cultures. If I’m ever at the hospital you can guarantee I’m looking at every porter cart wondering if there is a body being transported under our noses. It’s a bit weird I suppose, but I think most people have these kind of thoughts from time to time they just never mention it.
The Day of the Dead
In Mexico they have a festival called Dia De Los Muertos ‘The Day of the Dead’ you have probably seen the painted skulls associated with it as they have become very popular. The festival is recognised by UNESCO as a notable part of the cultural heritage of humanity and has its roots in Catholic tradition. It’s all about remembering family and friends who have passed and far from being spooky, the festival is a celebration of their lives. Families put out a table of the person’s favourite food and items and there is a big street carnival. People go to visit their family graves; it is an annual celebration on Nov 2nd across Mexico and anywhere that has a Latino heritage. The whole thing really appeals to me. To set time aside to think about and remember lost loved ones is good and healthy but more than that it seems like a nation-wide acceptance of death. It’s like saying every one of us has lost, let’s come together and celebrate the time we had with the people we love and thank them for going before us and laying our foundations.
I can imagine families really come together to share stories, kids who never met grandparents get to hear about them and grow up with an understanding of long reaching familial roots. There is nothing like that in the U.K that I have seen. In fact I have spoken to two women my age (34) this last week who told me their mum died within the last year. What struck me was the way they said it, it was a quick sentence in amongst other information almost like ‘I only say this to say that’. What a humongous life changing statement, ‘my mum died last year’ and for some reason, in our culture it’s like we’re not allowed to talk about it in polite society. How much I wanted to hug both these women, how strange it would have been if I had and how sad it is that we are so inept at publicly dealing with the issue of death.
I read a brilliant book not long ago all about death and how we tend to deal with it in modern society. The author had worked in funeral parlours, and aside from a few grim chapters around the practicalities of embalming it was a great read. She explores the idea of how and why we are so committed to keep death hidden and the lengths we go to, to do so. Birth and death happen around us every day yet both are really taboo subjects. I find that really interesting.