I write on the heels of Halloween, of a day where the veil between the living and dead is especially thin. Halloween is not really about costumes for me, though I do not mean to negate how fun (though, at times, problematic) they can be. For me, Halloween is a time to dedicate to the honoring of that thin veil and to observe All Souls/ All Saints Day in remembrance of those who have passed on. It’s a communal memory of public losses in society to injustices, but it is also a personal memory of the folks whom you knew and loved who passed along through the veil this past year.
As a society, we do not talk about death very much, at least insofar as the act of death. Often the subject of death is immediately subsumed by conversations about Heaven or the afterlife. I am not immune to this as I will admit that death is not a topic that I am comfortable talking about over dinner. I mean, do we all want to be bequeathed with indigestion?
Because I don’t like talking about death, I forced myself to enroll in a class called, “Death and Dying” this semester. Go figure. (I often subject myself to these sorts of things when I know they especially address/poke/prod a weakness of mine).
I am positive, though, that I am not alone and that this is a communal/societal experience. I know this because I see how hard we try to avoid death –we separate ourselves from the animals that had to die so that we may eat them and we sanitize death in impersonal funeral homes rather than house wakes. Thinking about death generally brings anxiety, uncertainly, and fear to many folks, and this should not be denied or covered up by one’s view(s) of the afterlife. Uncertainty often brings natural anxiety for us. Let’s face it, if you are reading this, you have not died and know not what the experience of death feels/ sounds/ smells/ tastes/ looks like for you personally. One’s view of the afterlife does not negate the uncertainty of the experience of death.
The fact remains that we do not know what it is like to die. And in the un-knowing [the un-known] a space is created for fear, or anxiety, or hope, or maybe especially faith.
No matter how sure you are about the afterlife or lack thereof, faith always must be just that. Faith. The knowing amidst the un-knowing; the trust that even through the un-knowing about the experience/ process of death, there will be a way. Thanks be to God.
- Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1, NRSV)
Well done, Kate. There is much wisdom to be gleaned from el Dia de los Muertos. In Mexico and other countries which have such customs, death takes its natural place as a normal part of human experience. And like all facets of human experience, it too deserves its celebration. Fear grows in the dark. Avoidance infuses anxiety with power. Will death cease if we acknowledge it? Of course not. But it ceases to become our enemy. It becomes our shadow. Our daily companion leavening our existence and telling us to savor this moment and those lives who touch our own.
And you’re absolutely right in pointing out that a focus on a glorious afterlife is just another way of avoiding death. Separation causes pain. Those who subsume this pain into religious belief have impaired their grief.