What to Say When I Die

The spirit of the traditional Día de Los Muertos

When I die, I’ll have plenty to say. But, gentle reader, you’ll not hear it.

Friends, neighbors, and writers of obituaries will, no doubt, have something to say. Fortunately, with my not being an old soldier, no one will comment that “he just faded away.”

Most of us, it seems, “pass away.” So when I die, I suppose folks will say, “Yes, he passed away, just last week.” “He passed” is softer than “he died.” Not so blunt. Maybe “to pass” suggests “to take one’s leave” or “to exit, stage right.” Even so, they’ll report that “he’s gone now.”

That said, enough about me. But wait! There’s much more to say about the dead. At our parish, on the Feast of All Souls, we read the names of the 93 parishioners who died this year. The most important things that we said about them were said, in prayer, during the Liturgy.

All Souls, at our mostly Latino parish, brings with it the spirit of the traditional Día de Los Muertos.

Some few Catholic Feasts still have a hold on the secular imagination for what they really are. In Los Angeles, this is the case for “the Day of the Dead.” Many families visit the graves of their dead. Children play a notable role in calling to mind the overlapping generations. Even the Los Angeles Times, a cheer leader for abortion and euthanasia and sterile homosexual “marriage,” ran a story titled “For the love of family, tradition and culture: Children celebrate and appreciate Día de Los Muertos.” Pretty good story, too.

Maybe the story was so good that the editors let down their guard. How so? Children at Sacred Heart Elementary School had put together ofrendas, clusters of remembrances, of family members who had died. The ofrendas were placed on little altars for all to see. Makes sense, since the dead are as real as any of us. One of the school children added a worn ultrasound image of the sister that she had waited for. She explained that “This was my mom’s baby in her belly,” adding that one day its “heart stopped.” She had more to say, as well. “I’m a little sad right now…but I also feel like this is going to make the baby very happy.”

Two points come to mind. Big sister doesn’t have a clear idea of what it means to believe that “the baby” is already with God. Nor do we. But she knows this much: she’s honoring her mom’s baby. Maybe even the editors got it, at least enough not to substitute “fetus.”

How strange! Sometimes the princes of this world finally recognize the least little ones as real people in their death.

Jim Hanink is an independent scholar, albeit more independent than scholarly!

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