Close to the Bone

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“Let them go.” “Get over it.” “Move on.” “Pull yourself together.” “Quit living in the past.” “Look towards the future.” “You must find closure and carry on.”

Such common comments directed at the bereft send me up a wall and make me want to scream. And if it would do any good to scream at myself I would, because most of the time it’s my own mind that’s running these messages around in my head, bombarding me with what I should do. Sure, they’re reinforced by family, friends, and society, especially the media, but it is I who soak it up, repeat it like a mantra and then beat myself up for not getting “over it” (my grief) quick enough. But the reality is, at least my reality is, that I have to remember. Remembering is the only thing that keeps me sane.

Remembering the dead is vital to our health. Keeping them with us, close to the bone, close to our hearts and minds, is the first step in transforming our past, so we can bring them with us into the future. Remembering is the road, the path, the catalyst that can teach us how to adjust to our loved one’s physical absence and live a life that has room for them and those who are living.

The Mexican Day of the Dead is one of many rituals and celebrations around the world and throughout the year, that invites us, as individuals and as part of the world community, to not forget our dead. It asks us to take a few days out of our hectic lives of planning, preparation, rebuilding and commotion to stop, reflect and embrace those from the past who have and continue to shape our lives.

As powerful as remembering can be, it is not enough to simply remember and tell our story. In order to bring those who have died into our lives and use their memory for our own good and the good of others, we must release the emotions that assault us when we are reminded of their absence.

When I look at the picture of our friend Marcia, who died in a car accident, I cry. When my eyes go to the next picture of my Uncle Danny, who killed himself, I cry. When I see my father-in-law, Claude, who was hijacked by Alzheimer’s, I cry. Sometimes, in the midst of my tears, feelings of anger, guilt, frustration and helplessness crash land in my body. Once they are recognized, I cry some more and let them go.

In the past, during my morning ritual of remembering family members and friends, I often found myself grieving the loss of others as well; those who had been murdered, died in wars, starved to death, been crushed in earthquakes or swept away in floods. Now, I find I am crying for my uncle Danny and those crushed in Cambodia, for our friend Marcia and those killed by floods or violence in Pakistan, for my father-in-law Claude and those who perished in the latest mining disaster in the U.S. I am crying for their families, who have been thrown violently onto the gutted road of grief and mourning.

In this coming year, I hope I have enough room in my heart for all of those who have died and for those living. I hope I lead the kind of life that people who are gone no longer have the opportunity to live. I hope I can integrate death into life and use this precious container we call living to help others keep their loved ones present. I hope our world finds some meaning in the midst of such devastating losses and we discover how to remember, release and embrace our feelings of emptiness and helplessness with understanding, awareness and compassion.

I pray that we, as citizens of the world, never forget those who have died, release the pain we feel with their absence and tenaciously hold on to them in any damn way we choose.

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