Dia de los Muertos — The Day of the Dead. It’s the Mexican holiday for remembering, honoring, and celebrating the lives of deceased loved ones. It is also the day of my dead — the 5th anniversary of my husband Ely’s death. (The sweet fur baby in the photo, Buffy, is gone too.)
I’m not sure Ely would have appreciated the irony of dying on the Day of the Dead. Like so many of us, he didn’t like to talk about or even think about death. He would have had a lot of trouble with the idea of using the words “celebrate” and “deceased” in the same sentence, and would probably be annoyed that I’m writing about it now. (He would also want me to point out that Day of the Dead is a Mexican holiday, and he was Puerto Rican. It drove him nuts when people lumped them together.)
Until Death walked right through my front door, I didn’t like to think about it either. Who does?? It’s terrifying. Ely was talking and laughing one minute, and utterly gone the next. He had such a big personality, and such a strong life force, and in an instant he…just didn’t exist anymore.
At first I couldn’t even say the word — dead. My oldest son and I rode to the hospital in a police car behind the ambulance, and were ushered into a small private waiting room in the back of the ER. (It is my sincere prayer that none of you reading this ever see the inside of that room.) Someone came in, and I knew, I knew, just from the expression on her face, but I still couldn’t say it. “He’s not alive, is he?” was all I could manage.
For weeks, I couldn’t say it: “My husband is dead.” It was so surreal. Even now, five years later, I still sometimes can’t believe this actually happened to us. But I’ve gotten comfortable with the concept. I’ve gotten comfortable with the word. I’ve been up close and personal. My husband is dead. Someday I will be too. So will you.
And this is why a celebration like Day of the Dead is so important, and so healing. Death is scary. It’s an unknowable mystery, and we might suffer, and we might die too soon. We will inevitably leave behind people who love us and need us. It’s so much easier and less painful to not think about it! But if we turn away from life’s biggest mystery, we’ll miss the whole point of living: to love so freely and so wholeheartedly that our lives will be remembered and celebrated long after we’re gone.
Today I celebrate Ely, who lived big and who loved us wholeheartedly. Who are you celebrating today?