“We Are All Just Walking Each Other Home”

Spiritual leader Ram Dass guided generations of people seeking happiness and satisfaction in life with his now legendary 1971 book, Be Here Now.  He was writing Still Here: Aging, Changing and Dying when he suffered a paralyzing stroke. That experience enlightened and expanded his perspective and the book, published in 2000, taught mindfulness practices to smooth the bumpy path of mounting losses we face at the end of life.

In 2018, with Mirabai Bush, he published Walking Each Other Home: Conversations On Loving and Dying, four years before he surrendered to death.  “ Walking each other home” refers to our spiritual journey, the walk each one of us makes through life that eventually leads us back to our Source. It is also a deep bow to caregiving and recognition of the meaning of community. 

Western culture, especially North of the Border (NOB) is often described as death-denying and grief-aversive.  We want to live to 100, even though the average life expectancy in the United States is 76.6 years, a decline from the 2019 high of 79 years. Canadians are benefiting from wise Covid management with an average life expectancy of 82.81 years. 

In Mexico, the average life expectancy is close to the US at 75.32 years.  While there is some difference in the mortality rates, there is a wide divide in cultural relationships to death. NOB, death has become a medical event with “pull the plug” the tragic decision many face to depart this life. Legal advance healthcare directives have become more necessary than ever to secure the quality of death and control of outcomes we hope for, and to spare our loved ones unnecessary suffering.

In Mexico, families live in large generational households and close communities. They have served loved ones through the cycles of life and the stages of death for centuries. Dying is a familiar and natural process that is regarded as a natural, normal part of every life.

This Mexican state of mind does not reduce the grief felt or the expression of mourning when a loved one dies.  The acceptance of death drives the spirit of “Viva la Vida!” or “Live Life!” that is at the root of the celebration of the Day of the Dead.  Accepting impermanence is the reason that Mexicans celebrate everything, and they celebrateas a community. 

Reminders of mortality are sprinkled all over the country visible in roadside memorials,  art, music, books, oral histories, and especially, the Day of the Dead festivities honoring the great transition.

This unique Mexican holiday on All Souls Day November 2nd is famous all over the world as an exuberant sacred ritual of friendliness toward death.  Families flood cemeteries where they clean and redecorate the graves of loved ones. Some carry picnics of favorite foods and drinks, play music, cry and laugh, give thanks for the relationship that was,  and grieve the absence of an important person in their life.  It is a continuation of a loving relationship that will not change. 

We ex-pats migrated south from the places our ancestors lived and are buried, the places our families of origin and original families of friends remain. We relinquished access to the many arms that would wrap around us when we experience grief, consequently we often grieve alone.

This disconnect from the community was exacerbated during the pandemic when our community was advised not to gather in groups depriving the sick and dying of needed support. We could not sit at their bedsides and hold hands, or mourn together after they died. That sadness lingers in us still.

Glorine Barnhardt was aware that we need to exercise the rituals of mourning as a community, and proposed the idea of a community project to Luis Pacheco Camara at the Lake Chapala Society, resulting in the first Intercultural Celebration of Life and Honoring Death Festival before the Day of the Dead. Diana Ayala and Alfredo Perez Aldana, LCS stalwarts, joined the team.

The festival will run from September 29th through November 1st, when LCS will present multiple educational, art, and entertainment offerings for children and adults alike. Separate Halloween costume contest parties promise lots of fun. The festival schedule can be found on the Lake Chapala Society website, as well as on posters and flyers around town. 

In the days preceding the festival, a Before I Die Wall will be constructed on the LCS campus by the students of Have Hammer, a charity-sponsored woodworking and carpentry training school in Riberas de Pilar, guided by Wayne Renz.

The wall is a community art project that was created by artist Candy Chang in a grief response to the death of a loved one.  Since the first wall was built in 2011, 5,000 walls have been built in 78 countries. 

This art project consists of a blackboard wall that will be placed in our community center. The location of our first wall will be The Lake Chapala Society, where anyone can write a meaningful message about “Before I die I want to___________.”

This is an opportunity to inspire our woodworking students and residents to reimagine their relationship with death and with one another in the public realm. 

Each wall is a unique tribute to living an examined life. The “Before I Die wall” invites us to restore perspective in an age of increasing distractions. Studies show that death awareness and death positivity develop a sense of community, compassion, gratitude, and well-being in those who embrace impermanence.

It is one of the most inspired creative projects ever in English and Spanish that will create a long impact and bring the community together, putting sacred dreams into words that will manifest in the future and change our residents’ lives. We plan to share this “Before I Die Wall” with other local organizations in 2023 as a reminder that we are all just walking each other home.

For more information about Lake Chapala visit: www.chapala.com

Loretta Downs
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1 thought on ““We Are All Just Walking Each Other Home””

  1. Loretta, thank you for caring, sharing and loving. Most importantly for educating. Life is good! Live it til the end❤️

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