Dia de los Muertos (Day Of The Dead)

More than 500 years ago, when the Spanish Conquistadors landed in what is now Mexico, they encountered natives practicing a ritual that seemed to mock death.

It was a ritual the indigenous people had been practicing at least 3,000 years. A ritual the Spaniards would try unsuccessfully to eradicate.

A ritual known today as Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead.

The ritual is celebrated in Mexico and certain parts of the United States. Although the ritual has since been merged with Catholic theology, it still maintains the basic principles of the Aztec ritual, such as the use of skulls.

Today, people don wooden skull masks called calacas and dance in honor of their deceased relatives. The wooden skulls are also placed on altars that are dedicated to the dead. Sugar skulls, made with the names of the dead person on the forehead, are eaten by a relative or friend, according to Mary J. Adrade, who has written three books on the ritual.

The Aztecs and other Meso-American civilizations kept skulls as trophies and displayed them during the ritual. The skulls were used to symbolize death and rebirth.

The skulls were used to honor the dead, whom the Aztecs and other Meso-American civilizations believed came back to visit during the monthlong ritual.

Unlike the Spaniards, who viewed death as the end of life, the natives viewed it as the continuation of life. Instead of fearing death, they embraced it. To them, life was a dream and only in death did they become truly awake.

“The pre-Hispanic people honored duality as being dynamic,” said Christina Gonzalez, senior lecturer on Hispanic issues at Arizona State University. “They didn’t separate death from pain, wealth from poverty like they did in Western cultures.”

However, the Spaniards considered the ritual to be sacrilegious. They perceived the indigenous people to be barbaric and pagan.

In their attempts to convert them to Catholicism, the Spaniards tried to kill the ritual.

But like the old Aztec spirits, the ritual refused to die.

To make the ritual more Christian, the Spaniards moved it so it coincided with All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day (Nov. 1 and 2), which is when it is celebrated today.

Previously it fell on the ninth month of the Aztec Solar Calendar, approximately the beginning of August, and was celebrated for the entire month. Festivities were presided over by the goddess Mictecacihuatl. The goddess, known as “Lady of the Dead,” was believed to have died at birth, Andrade said.

Today, Day of the Dead is celebrated in Mexico and in certain parts of the United States and Central America.

“It’s celebrated different depending on where you go,” Gonzalez said.

In rural Mexico, people visit the cemetery where their loved ones are buried. They decorate gravesites with marigold flowers and candles. They bring toys for dead children and bottles of tequila to adults. They sit on picnic blankets next to gravesites and eat the favorite food of their loved ones.

In Guadalupe, the ritual is celebrated much like it is in rural Mexico.

“Here the people spend the day in the cemetery,” said Esther Cota, the parish secretary at the Our Lady of Guadalupe Church. “The graves are decorated real pretty by the people.”

Complete Article HERE!

Some Thoughts on The Dying Process: Dying Wisely and Well, Part 2

Look for Part 1 of this series HERE!

One to Two Weeks Prior to Death


Expect that you will be sleeping most of the time now. As you die, consciousness will be harder for you to maintain. Those who attend you will be able to arouse you from your slumber, but upon awakening you may experience a period of disorientation.saying-goodbye11

Those around you may find you confused at times. They may even report that while you slept you seemed to talk to people who were not there. Your sleep may appear to some as restless and fitful. This will most likely add to the agitation of those who witness it. They may misinterpret these events and imagine that you are in distress.

If you are not in distress, you can reassure them with confidence that this, too, is natural and that they should be at ease.

Breathing exercises like those practiced by expectant mothers, deep and paced, are helpful for all concerned.

Remember you are in charge of your dying environment. The anxiety of those who attend you, if left unchecked, can disturb your sense of well-being and cost you the serenity you seek.

Physical Changes
As you approach your death there will be discernible changes in your body. For example, you will lose weight. Your blood pressure will drop. Your pulse rate will either increase from its usual range to upwards of one hundred fifty beats per minute, or decrease to near zero.

physical signs of dyingYour body temperature may fluctuate wildly. At times you will feel feverish, at other times you will feel a chill. You will experience an increase in perspiration, and what some describe as clamminess.

Those who attend you should be prepared to deal with all these eventualities. Cold compresses and extra blankets should always be easily available.

Your skin color will change: flushing with fever at one minute, becoming bluish with cold at another. Often a pale yellowish pallor will appear. Your hands and feet will become pale or even bluish as your heart’s ability to move sufficient blood through your body diminishes.

Expect your appendages and abdomen to swell and change color as bodily fluids begin to pool. This can also result in a change in your skin’s texture.

Gentle massage with a light lotion is comforting for both you and the person doing the massage. Don’t be afraid to ask for touch.death_and_dying

Your breathing will also begin to change. At times your respiration rate will increase from its usual range to forty breaths a minute or more. At other times your respiration rate will decrease to nine or even six breaths a minute.

You will want to prepare those who attend you for when you will stop rhythmic breathing altogether. This most often occurs during sleep.

Congestion in your lungs will cause a rattling sound in your lungs and upper throat, and may be accompanied by a dry cough. All of these changes will come and go.

Have those who attend you keep your mouth and lips moist. Ice chips on your tongue and glycerin swabs for your mouth and lips are ideal for this purpose.

One or Two Days to Just Hours Prior to Death

coping-with-death-processYou may have a surge of energy just before death, particularly if you have recently discontinued all your medications, except those you take for pain control. (Many of the medications you consume to treat your illness can have unfortunate side effects. Eliminating them during your dying process often gives your body an opportunity to rebound, resulting in an energy surge.)

You may have periods of heightened alertness and clarity unlike what you have become used to. You may resume eating even though you may not have eaten anything for days.

You may even have a renewed interest in being with people. This is an ideal time for closure with those you love. Giving and receiving farewells and offering blessings, as well as ritualizing this most important passage can be uplifting and life affirming for all involved.

If you are afforded this effervescence, know that it will be short lived. Time is at its most precious now. Use it wisely.

Immediately following this small window of renewed vigor the signs of death’s embrace will become more pronounced.

This can be a time of great distress for those who will survive you. They may have misinterpreted your rally of just days or even hours ago to mean that you are getting better. They should be reassured before this happens that all is on course and that your death is near.

There will be an increase in restlessness now as your body tries to compensate for a decrease in oxygen in the blood. Your breathing will become slower and more labored. It’s not unusual for your breathing to stop for long periods before resuming. Sounds produced by the congestion in your lungs will become more audible.

Those who attend you can ease your labored breathing by changing your position in bed.
Don’t expect to be present during much, if any, of this final stage. Your work is done. All you have to do now is let go. Nature will take care of the rest.

If you are registering any sensory input at all during this time it is most likely through your sense of hearing.

Those who attend you should be aware that they can be an enormous help to you at this time. To die peacefully with soft music playing in the background and with words of goodbye and thank you ringing in your ears will make all the difference in the world for both you and them.

Your eyes may be open or semi-open but you’re not seeing anything. For all intents and purposes, you are no longer here. All that remains is for your body’s mechanical systems to shut down.crying

Your eyes will have a glassy look to them or they will be tearing. Your hands and feet are now purplish, your extremities, back and buttocks are blotchy. Your dying is complete when you stop breathing.

However, what appears to be your last breath often is not. One or two long-spaced breaths at the last moments of life are not uncommon. When these finally subside, you are dead.

Your death, like most things in life, needs formal recognition. An official such as a doctor, hospice nurse or coroner must make that pronouncement.


Some final thoughts.
Throughout your dying process, those who survive and attend you will be looking to you for direction. They will expect and want you to express your needs and desires for as long as you are able. But even when you are no longer able to communicate in any form, crucial decisions continually need to be made. For example, when would you like life support systems such as oxygen removed, and by whom?

The wise person will have clearly and unambiguously addressed all such concerns both verbally and in writing. Durable Power documents and/or a Living Will are specifically designed for this purpose.

Remember there is no one particular way of dying well. In the final analysis, you will probably die the way you lived. However, if you wish to achieve an awareness, appreciation and acceptance of your own dying while participating in it, you can, but it will take work and commitment.

This kind of conscious dying won’t eliminate the pain and poignancy of separation, but hopefully you will learn how to face these and live through them to the end.

Good luck.

Some Thoughts on The Dying Process: Dying Wisely and Well, Part 1


No doubt you will approach your death in your own way, bringing to the actively dying phase of life a uniqueness all your own. What follows are some of my personal thoughts on dying wisely and well.


I don’t want to suggest that any of this is either conclusive or absolute. It is not. You may find that some of the things suggested below are present in sequence in your dying, or none may be. Your dying process may take months or just hours. What you can count on is that, short of a miracle, you will need to be the one to take the lead in all of this. Those who attend and survive you, even some of your physicians and other health care providers, will need a mentor, and the person best situated for that role is you.

I present this idealized scenario at some risk of being misunderstood. This is not about adjusting your deathbed pillows so that you can strike heroic poses for the edification of onlookers. Rather it is about achieving a good and wise death in the context of real dying, with all its unpredictability, disfigurement, pain, and sorrow.

I advise you not to think about your dying process in terms of a schedule, where one event follows naturally from the one before.quotes

Your dying, like the rest of your life, will no doubt be full of surprises. However, there are benchmarks that you should know about just in case they occur as you die.

Start with the things listed below as a baseline. You may find that some of these changes may begin to occur as early as three months before you actually die. Or you may find that your actively dying stage may begin as late as a week or even days prior to your death. The most important thing will be for you to heed the promptings of your mind and body. Hopefully these will signal you to begin a movement from struggling against dying to one of acceptance and acquiescence.

Please do not confuse acceptance and acquiescence with resignation and succumbing. Resignation and succumbing are passive, as in ‘something just overpowered me and I had no choice but to give up.’ Resignation is based in self-pity, believing that ‘in my dying I am powerless.’

Acceptance and acquiescence, on the other hand, are positive acts. ‘I choose to let go, to relinquish control and to accept living and dying for what they are.’ Wisdom comes in knowing when and where you are powerful and what the source of that power is.

One to Three Months Prior to Death – Turning Inward

By the time you realize you are actually dying, you will find that you have already begun to withdraw from the world around you. You will have less interest in the internet, newspapers or television, for example. You will invite fewer people to visit. In fact, you will probably have to practice saying, “Thank you, but I don’t feel like company today.”

why meYou will find that even the people dearest to you will begin to figure less and less prominently in your scheme of things. This process of detachment is good. It is a necessary component of the dying process and is precisely what will help make the inevitable separation easier on everyone involved.

This is a time of turning inward and it can be a time of great insight for you. It will provide you an opportunity to sort things out, to evaluate yourself and the life you’ve lived. In other words, it can be a time to come to understanding about the meaning of your life and death.

Often this process is done with eyes closed, in a sort of meditation. It ought not to be confused with sleep, although your need for sleep will also increase at this time. You may add a morning nap to your usual afternoon nap. You may even be staying in bed all day and sleeping most of the time.

Those who attend you may not be attuned to the meaning of this inward turn and may become distressed. They may think it’s a sign of depression. It’s not. If you are able, try to reassure them that this is natural and that some quiet reflection on their part might bring them more into sync with you.

This inward turn will bring less of a need for verbal communication with others. Words are how living people communicate; touch and silence are how you will communicate as you die.

Rarely will you be able to count on those around you to understand this profound inward turn. Be patient with them. It’s not ill will; they’re just uninformed. An invitation for a loved one to embrace you can go a long way to calm both of you at this time.


Food and Nutrition

Food is fuel. You eat to live. As your body prepares to die, it needs less and less fuel. It is perfectly natural that your consumption of food will decrease and eventually stop. This is another very difficult concept for those who survive you to grasp. They will want you to eat, reasoning that eating will help you maintain your strength. You will need to help them understand that it is not food that will nourish you for what lies ahead, it is peace and serenity.

You will no doubt experience changes in your eating habits. Cravings will come and go. On some days nothing will taste good. On other days you may prefer liquids to solids. You will most likely eliminate hard-to-digest foods, like meat, from your diet first. Other foods will follow. And in time you will even choose to refuse soft foods.
It is okay not to eat. Eating just to please someone else will actually be counterproductive for you.

Look for Part 2 later in the week.

Hump Day Humor – 10/15/14

Humor takes the sting away; it humanizes us; it helps us keep our perspective. Humor enriches us; it educates us; it brings us joy. Humor doesn’t dissolve the pain or make our life any less poignant, but it does help make things more bearable. That’s my philosophy, and I’m happy to share it with you on a weekly basis. I hope that if you enjoy what you see, you will take the opportunity to share it with others.

the funeral director

The secret life of death

the way he was

this way but once

Terminally Ill 29-Year-Old Woman: Why I’m Choosing to Die on My Own Terms


Brittany Maynard with her Great Dane, Charlie

For the past 29 years, Brittany Maynard has lived a fearless life – running half marathons, traveling through Southeast Asia for a year and even climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.

So, it’s no surprise she is facing her death the same way.

On Monday, Maynard will launch an online video campaign with the nonprofit Compassion & Choices, an end-of-life choice advocacy organization, to fight for expanding death-with-dignity laws nationwide.

And on Nov. 1, Maynard, who in April was given six months to live, intends to end her own life with medication prescribed to her by her doctor – and she wants to make it clear it is NOT suicide.

“There is not a cell in my body that is suicidal or that wants to die,” she tells PEOPLE in an exclusive interview. “I want to live. I wish there was a cure for my disease but there’s not.”

Maynard has a stage 4 glioblastoma, a malignant brain tumor.

“My glioblastoma is going to kill me, and that’s out of my control,” she says. “I’ve discussed with many experts how I would die from it, and it’s a terrible, terrible way to die. Being able to choose to go with dignity is less terrifying.”

The campaign’s six-minute video includes interviews with Brittany as well as her mother, Debbie Ziegler, and husband, Dan Diaz, 42.

“My entire family has gone through a cycle of devastation,” she says. “I’m an only child – this is going to make tears come to my eyes. For my mother, it’s really difficult, and for my husband as well, but they’ve all supported me because they’ve stood in hospital rooms and heard what would happen to me.”

Maynard was a newlywed when she started having debilitating headaches last January. That’s when she learned she had brain cancer.

“My husband and I were actively trying for a family, which is heartbreaking for us,” she says in the video.

Three months later, after undergoing surgery, she found out the tumor had grown even larger and was told she had, at best, six months to live.

After researching all her options after her diagnosis, Maynard, who was living in San Francisco at the time, decided aid in dying was her best option.

Her entire family moved with her to Portland earlier this year so she could have access to Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act, which has been in place since late 1997. Since then, 1,173 people have had prescriptions written under the act, and 752 have used them to die.

Terminally Ill 29-Year-Old Woman: Why I'm Choosing to Die on My Own Terms| Health, Real People Stories
Brittany Maynard and husband Dan Diaz

Four other states – Washington, Montana, Vermont and New Mexico – have authorized aid in dying. Compassion & Choices has campaigns in place in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Jersey.

In mid-October, Maynard will videotape testimony to be played for California lawmakers and voters at the appropriate time.

“Right now it’s a choice that’s only available to some Americans, which is really unethical,” she says.

“The amount of sacrifice and change my family had to go through in order to get me to legal access to death with dignity – changing our residency, establishing a team of doctors, having a place to live – was profound,” she says.

“There’s tons of Americans who don’t have time or the ability or finances,” she says, “and I don’t think that’s right or fair.”

This is why she’s using the precious time she has left to advocate for everyone to have the same choice she does.

“I believe this choice is ethical, and what makes it ethical is it is a choice,” she says. “The patient can change their mind right up to the last minute. I feel very protected here in Oregon.”

But Maynard doesn’t think she will change her mind. The date she picked was carefully chosen.

“I really wanted to celebrate my husband’s birthday, which is October 30,” she says. “I’m getting sicker, dealing with more pain and seizures and difficulties so I just selected it.”

Maynard says her exhaustion has “increased a lot” recently.

“I still get out and take a walk with my family everyday,” she says. “I try not to hold onto the dogs anymore because the past few weeks I’ve fallen a few times.”

Her pain has increased, too, but so far she’s been managing it with medications from her doctors.

“I was in the hospital two weeks ago after two seizures,” she says. “Immediately after, I lost my ability to speak for a few hours. So it’s scary, very frightening.”

Which is why she knows she’s making the right decision.

When Maynard passes on Nov. 1, she will do so in the bedroom she shares with her husband. By her side will be her mother, stepfather, husband and best friend (who is also a physician).

“I’m dying, but I’m choosing to suffer less,” she says, “to put myself through less physical and emotional pain and my family as well.”

Complete Article HERE!

‘Art of Death’ events focus on end-of-life issues


Ashley Benem, 45, is a practicing death midwife in Whatcom County who comes from a long history of healing work. She has worked on an ambulance off and on for 17 years, has been a practicing licensed massage therapist for 14 years and has been a counselor and minister the last five years.death-cab-for-cutie-transatlanticism-reissue

She also has worked intensely as an advocate for birthing women as a birth doula and pregnancy specialist in bodywork for years. That passion for being a support during a major transition, she says, has lead her to work with the dying.

On Thursday, Oct. 2, “The Art of Death: Shifting the Way We Look at Death,” a multifaceted event that includes films, workshops, music, performances and exhibits, kicks off at 5 p.m. at Pickford Film Center, 1318 Bay St.

The idea came to Benem when she saw what she says was a powerful art installation by Scott Kolbo at a gallery in Anacortes. The piece is the featured piece for “The Art of Death” exhibit at The Majestic on North Forest Street, with events planned around the exhibit for Oct. 10 and 11.

Benem says she thought if people could see the piece, it would start their minds thinking about their beliefs and knowledge about end-o-life issues.

“Nothing accesses our opinions, our beliefs and our emotions like the arts,” she says. “It is also the fastest way for us to begin to reconstruct our beliefs and opinions about any subject.”

So, Benem says, the thought of having an art show that focused on death and dying as a transition was born. The “little art show,” she says, grew by public demand into over a week of offerings around end-of-life choices.

Events continue through Oct. 11, and it’s all coordinated by Benem, with support from many agencies in Whatcom County, including Whatcom Alliance for Health Advancement, Northwest Regional Council, the Green Burial Council, Whatcom Hospice, Moles Farewell Tributes, Compassion & Choices, Death Cafe at the Center for Spiritual Living, The Leopold and Pickford Film Center, among others.

There will be three to four offerings a day, including a film festival of informative documentaries; presentations; and workshops covering such topics as legal preparations, grief work through poetry; how to write a death plan (much like a birth plan), and how to prepare yourself and the ones around you for the inevitable.

Benem says current practices of dying in the United States are protocol-based.

“We have taken the family and the care for the dying and dead out of our hands and have given that responsibility over to the authorities,” she says. “We have countless books, reports and studies to show us how that practice is not healthy. … Being part of our own and our loved ones’ death and dying process is truly the most natural and healing thing we can do.”

It’s her belief that if people bring a broader awareness of the options they have on end-of-life choices, they can make better, more-informed decisions.

That’s what she says she’s’ hoping for with “The Art of Death” – to bring more information to the public.

Complete Article HERE!