When I have a panic attack, I am terrified of dying. When I am having a good day and think about having a terminal illness, it doesn’t scare me. I like the good days. I don’t like to be fearful of the end of my life. If I have to be aware that my life is going to end one day, I don’t want to be terrified of how that is going to happen.
For the past twenty years, I have watched people from Mexico celebrate the Day of the Dead, and every time I see an altar, or a painted skull (I have one on my desk), I wish that we treated death more like our neighbors in Mexico. I want to be more like Mexicans and have a day to celebrate the dead, and keep them as a part of my life. A celebration of those who have gone before isn’t something I want to do alone I want to do it with others, as a part of a family or community.
I grow weary of living in a culture that worships youth, and where many elderly people are placed in homes away from their families. I know from personal experience that it isn’t easy or even safe, to always care for the elderly in your home, but many people are alone at the end of their lives, and that is tragic.
The first time someone I knew died, I was twelve or thirteen. Two boys, twins, from my hometown, (I had a crush on one of them) drowned underneath a waterfall near a lake outside of the town where I grew up.
Since that time, I have lost friends, a step brother, aunts, uncles, cousins, and my grandparents. Occasionally, I will write a story about one of them, and the process of putting a memory into words brings more memories of them back to me.
I love the young people in my life, and I know they have things to teach me, but so do the older people in my life. When I see older people, I know that someday, if I am fortunate enough to live a long life, I will be in their place. I may lose bits or pieces of my memory. I may completely lose my memory. I will be frail in comparison to my youth. I will have more doctor appointments and more medication. Of course, there are more and more stories of people living past one hundred who are still participating in a passion of some sort like music, or architecture, or other arts. Many people are living longer and healthier.
These are the thoughts I have on a Sunday morning in January. I am thinking of how I would like to celebrate those people who have died but are still a part of my life. I am also thinking about how we treat youth and age, and my mortality and the mortality of those I love.
It may seem like a weighty or depressing topic for the early morning, but it shouldn’t, and that’s the point – it happens to all of us and so many of the messages we receive from advertising is that it doesn’t have to. It does have to. It is a certainty; a certainty that we often hide.
I’m not hiding this morning, although I may be next week, and if I have a panic attack, I’ll be terrified of this very thing. I don’t want to be terrified. I want to celebrate and accept. Of course, I also hope to be writing my best stories at the age of one hundred.