Today we placed the ashes of my niece Alexandria under her headstone at Buffalo New York’s historic Forest Lawn Cemetery. (My beautiful 18 year old niece was struck and killed by a drunk driver in 2011 while long boarding home from work.) We decided to do this as a festive Day of the Dead celebration and I was blessed to speak at this event. Below is an excerpt from the service.

“The Celebration of The Day of the Dead has been around for more than 3000 years, and was actually separated into 2 different holidays, one for young people (the day of the innocents), and one for the adults.  For even 3000 years ago, they knew there was a special pain attached to the passing of a young person.  On “El  Día…de Los Muertos” or The Day of the Dead, it is said that the veil between the spirit world, and our world is at its thinnest, and that if we invite in our loved ones by honoring and celebrating their time spent on earth, doing certain traditions in remberence, they will come close to us.  By making ofrendas (or alters) of photos, food, and other items, we honor our loved ones in Spirit and invite them to spend time with us.

Death is a way of life.  We all know that some day the people we love will die, this is no secret.  Yet most of us, choose NOT to think about this.  We tell ourselves that it will happen in the natural progression of life, yet, as in the case of the Alix’s, Rachael’s, Dominic’s, Bailee’s, Aaron’s, Michael’s, Mark’s, and all of the other many people we know who passed before their time; we understand that young people DO die.  Why even my graduating class of 1983 in Orchard Park, NY lost 14 of our class before we even graduated.  

The celebration of death may seem mood-incongruent, but it’s not the death that is being celebrated, but actually the life that was lived, regardless of how short.  

“Death is an incredible opportunity to awaken.”  

When I first read those words by the modern spiritual teacher Ram Dass, it took awhile to sink in. I thought he was making reference to those who are dying and moving to the other side, but that’s only part of it.  Because for those of us who are left behind, we are given the opportunity to “awaken” to a different way of living, because we have been touched by death.  

By seeing death, we learn to cherish life. We learn that no matter how untimely, tragic, or unfair a person’s passing, we have something to learn from the experience.  We begin to understand that time is not promised…that all things are fleeting.  Death can be, if we allow it, an amazing tool to teach us about gratitude.  To appreciate all that we have, within every moment of our day.  With all the people who are still standing by our sides, and even looking back at the beautiful memories we have of our loved ones who have crossed before us. 

Death teaches us to notice the small, seemingly unimportant things in life, because these day to day moments with others, are really the threads that hold life together. Being kind…slowing down and taking the time for one another, looking someone in the eye and telling them you care…being patient…being present.

I once asked my sister how she was able to move forward, after the unfair and tragic passing of Ally.  She said, “my daughter would have wanted me to keep living….to be strong… to be forgiving.”  

Ally had this beautiful “live and let live” attitude.  She didn’t judge others, or ridicule them if they were different from her.  She accepted them AS IS!  And isn’t that something that everyone of us should learn.

THIS is what I mean by “Death is an incredible opportunity to awaken.”  It can allow us to be more evolved, more highly conscious, more aware.  Aware of how we live our lives, and how all of our actions effect one other.  Therefore, in celebrating those we have known who have crossed over, and for being grateful for having them, however briefly in our lives, we can move forward to be better versions of ourselves.  

For in the end, as Ram Dass also said, ‘We’re all just walking each other home.’”