My workday started yesterday with a lady who is nearing the end of her life. She has a good deal of dementia, and although she is still recognizable as the person I’ve been treating for years, she is not quite that person anymore, literally a shadow of her former self. Who is she now? This lady’s daughter gave the opinion that when her father died, her mother died as well. Where did she go?
The day ended with my empathically witnessing the very troubled birth of a child whose mother was the person actually lying on my table. The child has been having terrible nightmares and visions. Our working theory was that these distressing images relate to a disaster that occurred two generations back, before the birth of the child’s grandmother, because they seem to depict such similar images. Is this trauma still stuck in the psyche of the family group? Is the little girl a version of someone who was physically present at the event? Why is this child the one carrying the trauma?
All that plus an extra measure of fatigue and stress to scrape away my outer layers made me especially conscious of the continuity and connectedness of human life. It’s a few days past Día de los Muertos, and this year I have felt the thinness of the veils as never before. (As I wrote that, I felt a touch from Fryderyk at my right side.) Most years I hadn’t noticed anything special at that time, though I appreciated it and cherished it as my favorite holiday.
But most years I didn’t know so many on the other side personally. Within the past year one of our cats passed, then the patient and friend that I’ve mentioned, then two of my husband’s relatives, then my cousin. Very recently there were two I only knew vaguely but my husband knew better, someone prominent in the music community and an artist who lived down the street from us. A week ago I made an ofrenda in the dining room, with silk flowers and an Archangel Michael votive from my patient’s house, and put up pictures of those I could.
Late that night I suddenly felt strongly drawn into that room. I paid attention and pulled up a chair next to the ofrenda. There was an incredible sense of peace, and as I gazed at the photos in turn, I felt the presence of each of the deceased, especially my patient, and very much including the cat. As you know, for me to reach out to the dead is nothing new, but they had never reached toward me in this way before. It was a wonderful benediction and blessing. I didn’t want it to end.
The theme of this year’s Marigold Parade, the Día de los Muertos observance in Albuquerque’s South Valley, was water (“No Se Vende, Se Defiende!”). Nature went along by dumping rain on us, the only rainy, chilly day in a period of gorgeous fall weather. The energy was a bit lower than usual, but my enthusiasm for the holiday was way up. Here’s my attitude:
I’ve encountered a reaction of “ewwww” from some folks who aren’t in tune with this celebration of the dead. I don’t understand why. The dead are no more or less than the same people we loved when they were alive, and our relation to them doesn’t change in any fundamental way. Our ancestors may be gone from this plane, but their lives inform and nourish ours at every moment. There is nothing foreign or frightening about them.
The depictions of the dead dressing up in their party clothes, playing music, eating, drinking and dancing charm me. Why not have fun, free from one’s earthly cares? Because I know that there is infinite potential to keep learning, developing, loving, and appreciating, and I want others to know it too, I like this kind of reminder. The images of the skull and the skeleton also remind us that under the skin we are all the same, and that all of us are equal in facing death, no matter what our station in life.