All Saints Day and All Souls Day often get lost in the shuffle that is Halloween. In other countries, many practice spending the two days honoring those they’ve loved who have completed their time on earth. They create little tributes to their lives. In Mexico, they picnic with the deceased favorite foods at the grave. It’s supposed to be a celebration of life.
Here in the good ole U.S., talking about death is tricky. The subject is generally taboo.
Even the word is taboo. In my first job out of college, I was the social director in a nursing home. One day, I was walking down the hall and realized a previously occupied room was vacant.
A nurse walked by. I said, “Where is Mr. Doe?”
She mumbled something.
I asked for clarification. She said something more cryptic.
Finally, I asked, “Did Mr. Doe die?”
To which, she looked upon me in complete horror.
“He expired,” she said, with an emphasis on the ex-pired. “We don’t say that word here.”
Some people believe the reason English-speakers don’t say the word death dates way back and is related to the old superstition that saying the word death invites death.
There are so many euphemisms in English for the death. Think about the ways we avoid saying it: kicked the bucket, pushing up daisies, passed away, passed, gone on to a better place, bit the dust, bought the farm and croaked – to name a few.
Back to the nursing home.
It didn’t come as a surprise to Mr. Doe’s friends and relations that he died. He was 96 and not in good shape. He lived a long and full life.
This is the cycle of things. We’re born. We’re young. Time passes. We age. Eventually, we die.
My seven-year-old was trying to work out the cycle a few weeks ago.
“Mom, will you die one day?” she asked.
“Yes, Piper, one day I will die, but right now I’m healthy and am not looking to go anytime soon,” I answered.
“Will Dad die too?” she asked.
“Yep,” I said. “At some point Dad will die too.”
“Oh,” she said after a long pause. “You know, Mom, eventually, even I will die.”
“Yes, Piper, you are right. That’s the way life goes,” I said.
I may have broken every parental psychological guideline in that one question and answer session, but I’m a firm believer in telling the truth. No need to go on and on about the topic at hand. I’ve learned to ask questions of my own before doling out too much information. But, in this case, my daughter asked a direct question. She deserved an answer.
While our culture tends to avoid the topic as much as possible, sometimes people who have lost someone they love would appreciate the opportunity to speak of the life and times of their loved one. Sometimes, even people who are dying appreciate the opportunity to talk about the situation.
We owe them that, don’t we?