It’s All Saints Day this Sunday and traditionally this is the day that the Catholic Church honours their saints followed by All Souls Day when the dead are remembered. The Celts celebrate Samhain on Saturday and next to honouring their dead they also celebrate new year when darkness takes over the northern hemisphere. Traditionally the Celts invited family over for dinner and extra plates where set for the deceased, candles where lit in the windows to make sure that family members found their way home in the dark.
In our current society this celebration has split up in two holidays Halloween and Thanksgiving. Halloween is still celebrated on the 31st of October but where the Celts honoured their dead and gave them a place at the dinner table we have transformed this sacred day into a day of horrors and costumes. A day where pumpkins are hollowed out and lit up as terrifying masks in windows and doorways and the fear of death reaches its peak.
In Mexico as well people honour their dead on the 1st of November and tradition dictates that families visit the graveyard where their loved ones are buried to clean and decorate their graves and spend time with both the dead and the living family members. On the island of Sulawesi in Indonesia the Torajan people have a festival every three years where they dig up their deceased family members and meticulously wash and redress them in new clothes. After this their loved ones are displayed so the whole family can spend time with them before burying them again for another three years. This is their way of celebrating and honouring their dead as death is seen as the most important event of life.
How different do we experience death in our society, the deceased are stored in freezing drawers and we are allowed to say our goodbyes in short predetermined timeslots. Our culture has placed death and the dead as far away as possible and where there used to be a natural understanding of the cycles of life (birth, life, death, rebirth) all that remains is the monotony of daily existence, and in this present day even that has been put on hold for our disproportional fear of death.
This weekend different cultures and religions celebrate death and I for one would like to invite you to look at death and what it means to you. What is it exactly that frightens you when you look at death? From personal experience I know that life is experienced differently when death presents itself. Almost everyone experiences love with more respect and caution after they have lived through the death of a love. Our body is viewed with more love and gentleness after it has recovered from a serious illness or injury. In befriending death we can learn to truly value what is important to us and discard all that is not.
There are important questions we can all ask ourselves around death and dying. For instance: Which parts of you or your life may die in order for you to live a more fulfilled life? How did death change you after you’ve encountered it in your life? This can be both literally and figuratively in the death of a relationship, the death of a dream or the death of a career. What makes life worth living when you are figuratively looking death in the eye? What do you want to be remembered for? How do you want to be remembered? What would you like to leave behind as a legacy? These are not easy questions in any way, but the answers can reward you with a richer life should you choose to follow them through. It is my heartfelt belief that since this life is only given to us once we owe it to ourselves to make it as rich and as beautiful as we can.