What Do You Think About Death?

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’. 

Strange Thoughts

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.

women of dia de los muertos

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.

candles

Celebrating Life

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.

Hidden 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.

 

3 Comments

  1. elaine mines
    20th September 2017 / 3:50 pm

    This is funny I wrote a story about the mexican day of death for my writers group a few months ago. I’ll try and upload it here – enjoy,A Day of Celebration

    Vanamos Abuelo, lets go ! Grandfather smiled benignly at Miguels entreaties and let himself be lead into the street. It was November the 2nd Dias de los Muertos, / Day of the dead. And every one was celebrating.

    The aztec ancestors would have celebrated for a month. In 1960 it was declared a national holiday when all of Mexico honoured their dead . It was Miguels favourite day.

    Entire Families joined with neighbours to honour their deceased loved ones by dressing their graves, eating and drinking there while exchanging happy memories and good times.

    Lunch was the biggest meal of the day and favourite foods of the deceased would be prepared and eaten at the graveside.

    Miguel liked the calvedros, small decorated skulls made out of sugar that the children gave to each other as presents. Mama had made a favourite , red chillie tamales , the hotter the better, jalapenos and cactus tamales along with the traditional Fliambre, a salad made of 50 cold ingredients, was not only tasty but suited everyone.

    Washed down with sweet jamaica iced tea made with the leaves and flowers of the hisbiscus tree and maybe a little Tequila for the adults.

    Arriving at the cemetery Miguels parents had just finished cleaning the grave, and were decorating it with aztec marigolds and setting out candles in order that the dead could find their way back to earth to visit the living for the day, before putting a blanket on the ground for the picnic spread.

    “There you are Miguel!” exclaimed his mother. Miguels sister poked out her tongue at him in greeting, while grandma tried to separate his two bored younger brothers, who were tusseling each other to the ground.; “ have you brought Grandfathers things ?”
    Taking the cigarillo case , rosery and picture she carefully arranged them on the grave and lit the candles.
    Smiling at her handiwork, she gave a sigh and said

    “Come! now we eat.”

    The delicious food was shared around and the whole family waved and smiled at their friends and neighbours who were also following suit.

    Laughter , songs and children playing filled the air on this happy day. Each relative experienced a warm glow growing in their heart . And a reafirmation of their belief that death was only part of lifes journey that they would all eventually go on.

    It reassured each and every one of them that they too would be remembered in this way .The tradition had stood the test of time and was a living testament to the communities strong family ties.

    For the first time last year there had been a massive parade in Mexico city. Theirs was a small town but there would be dancing and singing in the street culminating in a fiesta in the town square this evening.

    Everyone would be in familiar fancy dress, skeletal white face paint, the ladies wearing crowns of flowers . This year Mama was dressing as Aztec Godess of Mictecaihuati complete with a large hat and crinolin dress. Father would don a black jacket , black t -shirt and pants with a skeleton painted on it, and dance the night away.
    As dusk approached the family prepared to go home to change for the parade.

    ‘Say good bye, everyone” Mama instructed.

    Looking towards the grave, grandma shed a little tear .
    Miguel blew kissess towards it as he saw his grandfather was preparing to re-enter his grave, saying

    “Until next year Abuelo, until next year………….”

    End

  2. Laura
    20th September 2017 / 4:34 pm

    I think about death constantly!!! It’s fear of others dying tho, and not that I’m a mum a fear of me
    Dying. It’s my most thought of thought lol not just a death fascination. I love the fest of the dead idea, wish we would adopt it over here x

  3. 20th September 2017 / 11:56 pm

    Yet another great blog Kate, really feels like you’ve got your voice back well and truly back where it belongs! I love reading the things you write and this is sooooo true! I love walking through graveyards too, especially searching for my family! I find it fascinating – even discovering how my ancestors died! The feeling is real too, that connection to those who have gone before us. Surely as Christians we should be celebrating death as well as life – I think of my Nanna Ruby and her last moments on earth and know her spirit is still watching over me – I even have a little chat with her now and then as there’s things only she would understand! Thanks for talking about this though Hun, it’s spot on yet again!! Xx

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