De Dia De Los Muertos

While in Mexico I fell in love with the statues and mannequins that represent  Dia De Los Muertos.  My children were aghast when I said I wanted a full size mannequin for my dining room.  “Mom, that’s morbid” they exclaimed.  When I looked at these mannequins though, I saw nothing morbid about them.  In fact, all I saw was beauty.  I decided it would be easier to buy one online instead of having to carry it home from Mexico, and I did not buy one.

When I returned home I began my online search.  I was disappointed to find nothing like what I’d seen in Mexico.  The few figures I saw were not what I wanted, and shortly I stopped looking, but my attraction continued, as did the horror of my children.  Repeatedly they asked me what was wrong with my, why would I want a skeleton in my home.

Eventually, I figured it out.

Underlying all that we are is our skeleton.  While professionals might discern the difference between two skeletons, the majority of us think all skeletons look alike.  In the Mexican culture, they have taken skeletons and made them beautiful.  Females get beautiful gowns and accessories, men get a handsome tuxedo, or bolero jacket.  All  look dazzling.  What a powerful visual, right?  At our essence, we are all the same AND we all have the potential to be beautiful.

In  the US we believe the opposite.  We are taught from an early age that each person is “individual”.  We are also taught that some people are “beautiful”, while others are not.  This really strikes me on days like today.  I am getting ready to go to Eagles game where I will be on the field at half time, representing cancer survivors.  While this should be a fun, poignant, joyous occasion, I am so concerned with what I’m wearing and how I look, I am overwhelmed with anxiety.

When I came to this realization I decided to investigate the custom.  Short primer – Dia De Los Muertos translates to Day of the Dead.  From October 30 through November 2nd, those in Mexico and Latin America celebrate the dead.  They prepare an altar for the loved ones who have passed.  On the altar they place his/her favorite foods and mementos, to prepare for the return of the dead.  They also have parades and other celebrations, all with the aim of remembering and welcoming back into their lives those who have passed.  (this is the traditional custom – not all partake)

Now that I know this I want to go to Mexico to celebrate Dia De Los Muertos!  What a beautiful way to remember and celebrate people you have lost!

I had my last chemo on November 26th, 2013.  Because I was late stage and had little chance of survival, my entire family gathered for Christmas.  There I sat with  my bald head and lack of eyebrows, not quite sure what my role was.  I could no longer play the role of hostess, so I was an observer.  In so many ways I felt like an outsider. As the day wore on, I started to wonder what the day would look like without me there.  As I watched I grew certain that the day would be the same.  This is the custom in the states – go on with your life, because your loved one would want you to.  As I watched that day though I had to admit that I would not have wanted that.  I want to be grieved.  I want to leave a lasting impact on my loved ones.  I don’t want them to cry every day, but once a year, taking a few days to remember me, to celebrate me – that, to me, is heaven.

On Friday a 36 year old, lovely, spirited young girl died from colon cancer.  She had over 1,000 facebook friends, but the overwhelming consensus was shock that she’d had cancer.  She was so afraid to talk about the fear, and the pain, and death, she rarely shared it with her friends.  I hope she shared it with her family.  As I read the posts I grew angry.  I am angry at our refusal to talk about death.  I am angry that cancer patients are called “warriors”, suggesting that we are required to “fight”, that if we die we have “lost our battle”.  I am angry that we are told we must have positive thoughts, that we can’t dwell on fear, or anger or shame.
I will end this post with the words I shared yesterday on FB.  There is so much more to say about this, but I’m off to the Eagles game.  Hoping I’m dressed appropriately, with the right hair style and correct amount of make up and jewelry.  Ugh.
Is the Language of Cancer Deadly?
 
How many times, while going through surgery & chemo and the months that followed was I told “you have to have a positive attitude” – “don’t talk about death” – “you are strong enough to win this battle” – and more. How often was I not allowed to express how I really felt? Like, pissed off that it was me and not someone else. Terrified that I was going to die. Weak because I couldn’t get out of bed. Ungrateful because the pain far outweighed the love.
 
Instead of being able to say what I was really feeling, I was forced to smile, show up at the dinner table, talk about happy things, pretend I felt like a warrior and assure others that I was a “fighter” and would “win”.
 
There is no fighting here. There is no winning and losing. There is only death, something we will all do, and something we all fear. Cancer takes who it wants to take, and, if it hasn’t taken your body, it will take your soul.
 
Trust me when I tell you – I am not a warrior. I am the one who insisted someone talk to me about dying. I am the one who bemoaned my fate, cried and carried on driving to chemo, grieved and raged for myself and my children.
 
It is just dumb LUCK that I’m here to talk about it.
 
If your loved one has cancer, please let them rage, and cry, and talk about the terror they feel, because honestly – it’s your job to be strong, to be their warrior, to keep a positive attitude and fight for them. They are really quite busy just being alive.
PS:  anyone want to go to Mexico for Dia De Los Muertos???
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