Sunday, February 14, 2010
Death and Other Happy Matters
I've had a fear of death since I can remember. It's the whole facing your mortality thing, I'm sure, and something I have in common with all other humans. Well, except for the ones who have zero doubt that Heaven awaits them. Me, I haven't been that good. Sometimes the fear's a gripping one--one that makes me flush with panic; one that makes it hard to breathe. It's over. Forever. It didn't help any when people I loved died. It was just so heart wrenching and awful. Just like that they were gone. Forever. One of my ways of dealing with this is to avoid the cemetery. I just wind up crying my eyes out, so why would I go? I'd rather "visit" with them in places I'd spent time with them. To me, a cemetery is a morbid, depressing place. And then I started researching the next Sammy Keyes book and I found myself learning about the way other cultures use the cemetery as a place of celebration. At first this notion seemed so strange to me. Party? In a cemetery? But the more I read about how these cultures remember their dead, visit their graves, share stories, and have family reunions in graveyards, the more I started thinking that our culture has it all wrong. I mean, I do not want to be a bunch of bones in a box in the ground where glum visitors hang around for a little while and then leave. But if they brought me my favorite foods and laughed and danced and remember-when'd, and told the new generation wild stories about me...well, that would be kinda cool. Maybe our country doesn't celebrate the dead this way because we're "transplants". My parents came from Holland, so all our ancestors are buried in Europe. I've been to my grandparents' graves twice, and it was very somber. But even so, after my siblings and I are gone, who will ever visit them again? Or maybe it's because our culture fears death in ways others don't. As much as we'd like to avoid facing it, death is unavoidable. And so I think our approach to dealing with it is all wrong. Celebrating with the dead would make death seem not so finite, and would remove a lot of the fear of "The End". One of my favorite things about being a writer is that I'm always surprised by what I learn. I never in a million years thought that researching a Sammy Keyes book would make me feel better about death. Not that I'm ready to go anytime soon! But when I'm a bunch of bones in a box in the ground, come visit me. Bring some friends. Tell some funny stories. Dance a little. Oh, and pack me a frappuccino, some salmon sushi, and a few chocolate chip cookies. I'd like that.