Wednesday, November 5, 2014

"What is it with Mexicans and death!?!"

The title is a line from the animated movie "The Book of Life."
From Guillermo Del Toro comes a tale set around the Mexican culture and traditions associated with Dia del los Muertos, translation, The Day of the Dead.

On November 2, Mexican families gather at the cemeteries of their loved ones and offer gifts, food, even full flung picnics around the graves of the dead.

The dead. Dead.

People who have died.


The word itself throws people. People can barely bring themselves to say it. As if saying it would invoke the actually effect. Dead. Died. Deceased. That one is a more formal cheat around the actually word(s), seems more polite. No wonder the British use it. Reading it so many times now has probably made you a little uncomfortable.


"The Book of Life" illustrates the foundation of this "holiday." I put the word in quote marks cause of the fact that it's a day to celebrate dead people. But it's to celebrate and most of all remember them and their life. As long as they are remembered they will always exist. Just not in a walking-around-breathing-kind-of-way. It's at a point in the film when yet another major character dies, and one of the kids this tale its being told to blurts out "What is it with the Mexicans and death?!" (And everyone in the theater did laugh.)

As a parent we try to protect our children. It seems at times we over do it. But we don't want "unpleasant" things in their life. And death is high on the list (right after thinking of other words for "penis" and "vagina" during potty training). Years ago, Sesame Street actually tackled the subject. After Will Lee, the actor of the beloved character Mr Hooper, died, the producers thought how to treat it. They finally decided out of respect for him and the viewers, they would have the characters, including Big Bird, deal with his death. When Big Bird comes looking for his friend, the adults tell him flat out, "Big Bird don't you remember, Mr Hooper died. He's dead." Big Bird says he'll just wait till he gets back and they add, "When someone dies, they don't come back." It was the simplest, most honest, and still touching way for an adult to tell a child about death. I was there the day it was recorded and it was wonderful. Really.

Seeing "The Book of Life" with my 9 yr old son was fun. It was also interesting. Two weeks prior, my mother, Edna MacNeal, his grandmother, who had moved in with us for the past year, died. She had been in the hospital and then taken to rehab to rebuild her motor skills (aka walking) when she had to be taken to the ER. Her breathing was compromised. I got there and she was awake. She had an oxygen mask on but she knew me and I joked with her, even got her to laugh. As we waited for a room after the decision was made to admit her, I was sitting with her and she kept dozing and then waking up. Then finally she went to sleep. And that was it. She died.

Years ago she told me her wishes and every now and then would re-iterate them: "I want to be cremated. Then go find the nearest bar, have a drink, and then move on." And that's exactly what we did. We had a toasting at a local restaurant, and invited friends who knew her. And through the magic of Facebook, people who knew her and couldn't come and even those who only knew her through the stories we'd share of her, posted pix of their glasses, from all over THE WORLD, toasting the life of this amazing woman. A woman, a single mom, who helped shaped me into the man I am today.

That's why I loved seeing "The Book of Life." The Day of the Dead holiday and the movie celebrates life. That's the fun of day for the dead. And more importantly, it reminds us to appreciate and enjoy life, right now. YOUR life. YOUR story. Right now.