More Than Meets the Eye, True Stories about Death, Dying, and Afterlife covers many aspects of the dying and grieving process and sheds light on euthanasia, suicide, near-death experience, and spirit visits after the passing of a loved one. ___________________________________________

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Dia de los Muertos, The Day of the Dead

The death of a close friend or relative has a way of opening our eyes and ears to the unseen realm. It also provides an opportunity for us to think about what we are doing with our lives and where we are on our spiritual path. We tend to contemplate who we are, why we are here, and whether we are living life to its greatest potential. This contemplative evaluation can move us to create change for ourselves. For Jennifer Longmire the death of a close friend propelled her spiritual seeking, which in turn initiated a career change that led her to become a spiritual healer:

In 1996 my former husband, Bill, and I were living in Tucson, Arizona. We were good friends with John Payne and his wife, Sharon. Bill and John were in grad school together working on their Master of Fine Arts in creative writing. John and Sharon went through an ugly divorce and John was just returning to normal after grieving deeply. We probably saw John at least once a week and talked to him frequently. He was quite the character—big energy, deep voice—and he came from a blue-collar mid-western background. He loved to shock people and say what everyone else was afraid to verbalize. He didn't care what anyone thought of him and seemed rather gruff on the exterior but was really a big teddy bear. He was a gifted poet, and his writing spoke of the inner emotional world. That seemed odd coming out of this big, macho guy.

We had talked to John just before Halloween when he left to go rock climbing in the Dragoon Mountains at Cochise Stronghold. We got a phone call that he had fallen to his death, and when we learned that his body was being sent back to Illinois, we decided to have a memorial for him in Tucson. Our service was attended by John's Arizona friends and people from the creative writing program at the University of Arizona. In Mexico there is a Mexican tradition to honor deceased ancestors called Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. The Mexican Catholics have kept a lot of the pagan traditions; which I love. It was my visit to Mexico that sparked my interest in Paganism. I especially like the way they depict the Virgin de Guadalupe alone, not just as Jesus’ mother, and standing on the crescent moon! Anyway, on the Day of the Dead, the Mexicans build an altar and place candles and photos of their deceased loved ones on it. Plates of food and wine are left out for the spirits of the dead to come and feast. The Pagans believe that the veil between the physical and spiritual planes are thinnest around Hallowmas or Halloween time. Dia de los Muertos is on Nov. 2nd. During that time, it is believed that we can communicate best with the Other Side.

In keeping with the Mexican tradition we made a huge Dia de los Muertos altar for John. We created an outdoor show of his poetry, which we mounted with photos and hung from trees. At the memorial, we allowed people to walk around and read the poems John had written. Then we came together to tell stories about him and share our feelings. We all spoke of how John lived and loved with wild abandon. Everything he did was with extreme passion and he died the same way. Legend has it that the Native American, Cochise’s body was never found and was believed to still be somewhere in the Dragoons. We imagined John and Cochise hanging out together. We thought we felt his presence in the room, and knew he was getting a kick out of the whole thing. To us it was so much better than a funeral or formal religious memorial.

I had no idea how much John’s sudden death would effect me on a spiritual level. I had just begun to explore my spiritual path. The following spring I quit my full time job as Program Coordinator for a human services organization. I had the opportunity to take some time off and really think about my life. John was a powerful teacher. Looking back, it was his death that ignited something inside me that sent me on a deeper search. It initiated a whole string of events that led me to my current path as a healer and spiritual seeker. From 1997-2000, I went through an intense period of spiritual growth that I think of as a shamanic death and rebirth. It is nice to remember John and the beginnings of my spiritual journey.

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