Dia de los Muertos celebrates ‘the undiscovered country’

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Opinion

October 24, 2018 - 9:02 AM

It took the brilliant Pixar film “Coco” for me to figure out what was missing: the dancing skeletons, the flower-adorned gravesites, the altars crowded with candles and framed photos of deceased loved ones. I’m talking about Dia de los Muertos, and though the celebration of this Mexican holiday is already established in Latin corners of the United States, I’m proposing we go full throttle and declare the Day of the Dead an official American holiday.

Here’s why I’m stumping for the idea. I’m a 62-year-old journalist, first diagnosed with cancer in 2014. As I’ve written in The Times on other occasions, despite surgery, chemo and radiation, my disease metastasized in 2015. When three different doctors told me I would live six months or “a yearish,” I began to think a lot about death.

Until then, like most Americans, I’d avoided the subject. Death was something to run away from — a giant negative, a dark mystery, the end of everything. Pain and grief seemed all that awaited any consideration, forced or otherwise, of what Shakespeare called “the undiscovered country.” It doesn’t take departed psychologist Ernest Becker, who won the 1974 Pulitzer Prize for his book “The Denial of Death,” to recognize that most of us will do anything to ignore mortality until it’s coming straight for us or a loved one.

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