Sarah Calvert

"I love the dead." Alice Cooper


Remembering Gloria Calvert...with love and respect (man, she was HOT!)

I wondered why there were kids stopping by my casita on a Thursday morning and thought, “Shouldn’t these kids be in school?” Apparently here in Nicaragua, kids don’t have to go to school for November 2nd, which signifies El Dia de las Muertes, or the Day of the Dead. When you say it in English, it sounds so much more blunt. More harsh. More morose. And yet, it’s all a part of living, this whole dying thing, and we as North Americans as a whole, don’t really know how to handle it. 

I was chatting with a friend last week about the whole idea of death in our culture, and we agreed that it would be great if we could teach what death really is, to our youth, at an early age.  God knows I didn’t know anything about death when I was a kid, with the exception that we lost our albino rabbit Flospy to a hungry neighbourhood dog. I never even saw any tufts of fur, just the overturned laundry basket in the backyard, and then Mum telling us that Flopsy was gone. Flopsy was apparently in “heaven," where she could eat as many carrots as she wanted, and hump as many arms as she could. 

We were told that my uncle Jerry in Florida had a heart attack and was also “gone”, when I was about ten. I later found newspaper articles in my father’s drawer (whilst on the hunt for Dad’s homegrown weed in my early teens) that said Jerry had actually been murdered…mafioso style. I see the fact that it may have been too early to have told me that Jerry’s ankle had been cast in a concrete block and his body was found at the bottom of a lake. That makes sense. I wasn’t ready to hear that truth at ten years old. What doesn’t make sense is that as kids, we are never really told the truth about death in general. The explanations given are usually simplified into phrases like, “He’s in a better place now.” I mean, come on. The place where he was living before was pretty damned good; he had a beautiful wife, children, home, great holidays and tonnes of cash, so is that “other place” really better? Debatable. 

Then we have the whole notion of heaven, which is really hard to describe because no one who is actually living, has been there to attest to its attributes. It’s a simple way to describe the indescribable. I personally wish that someone had come into our classroom in grade four, and told us about death when Stacey’s father died. Usually, the teacher would just make an announcement to the class (when the bereaved was absent) that Stacey has lost her father, and she might be sad. We should just leave her alone and be respectful. And so, we’d all avoid Stacey like the plague, almost as if she had cooties, because we didn’t know how to deal with her sadness, and didn’t know what to say to her. Thus, Stacey would feel all the more isolated in her grief, and not feel supported in a place where she spent six hours of her day. That doesn’t really seem right. 

I think a more effective strategy would be to have a conversation with the class about death, early on. Actually, make it a unit study for Socials. It wouldn’t have to be very long, perhaps four classes total, and it would range from covering topics like How people die. Why people die. What happens to a family when someone dies. What we can do to support each other when a loved one dies. Nothing morbid about that. Just real. 

In my little bag of altar pieces, I have a small urn of Mum’s ashes. Sometimes I’ll introduce people to her, and even pass her around. I know that with her wicked sense of humour, she’d find this funny. Especially if we explained that we got a deal on the urns because my sister got one too. Mum loved a bargain. In fact, on the way to the crematorium, we passed a 75% off summer sale rack in downtown Barrie. I made a break for it and bought a beautiful lime green fall coat at a steal of a deal. Mum would have loved that. Some people feel really uncomfortable with seeing the urn, and think it’s creepy. For me, it’s just a symbol and talisman of her spirit and energy, which is still alive and present. It’s a way for me to honour where I came from as I place her urn (along with various other sacred) on an altar. I sit in front of this altar, light a candle and give thanks for her having given birth to me. 

I think that having a “Day of the Dead” is actually more significant than what we now celebrate, which is a night that involves getting free candy, without much appreciation for what is received, and the possibility of numerous cavities. We'd be far better off remembering our ancestors and our history than hand out candy.  

Although I’m out of the school system now, I feel that it would be so much better if we addressed death early on. So that it’s not scary, so that it’s not foreign, and that so that when it happens (and this is the only certainty we have in life), we can be more prepared. On that somewhat sombre (yet important) note, I’m off to surf now, and if I don’t make it back, please remember to celebrate this life I’ve lead by remembering, crying, laughing, and of course dancing to music. 

As always, grateful you are with me on this journey,

Much love and light,

Sarah

 

Question for You: What are your thoughts on death and how can we better prepare ourselves for it? 

 

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