On November 1 and 2, many American children will be coming down from the sugar high induced by over indulging in Halloween trick or treat candy. In Mexico, The Philippines and many other places with rich Latin cultures, people will be celebrating Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead, a festive celebration honoring friends and family members who have died, a holiday that coincides with the Catholic All Saints' Day.
I've always admired the way Latin culture marries ritual and fiesta-like atmosphere with something most people find so hard to discuss yet something we all have in common: our own mortality. All those skeletons dressed up in mariachi costumes remind us what living is all about -- celebrating and honoring the spirit of the deceased with color offerings and alters.
As much as we try to turn a blind eye to death in our culture, it eventually touches all of us, and it helps to give it some forethought.
Travel isn't always glamorous. One of these days you'll have to pack a bag in a rush to attend a funeral, celebration of life, make condolence call or a visit someone on their deathbed.
The five stages of grief -- which I have learned can happen all at the same time -- make it hard to function sometimes, so travel can be more difficult than usual. Grief is a complex and inconvenient emotion. The "anger" stage has never failed to rear it's ugly head when I'm in a middle seat in coach at 30,000 feet while kid next to me won't shut up about how excited he is to go to Disneyland.
I have found myself grieving on a jet plane a few times and have compiled a few packing tips and pointers to make your journey less horrible.
Remember to Hydrate
Drink plenty of water. This might sound overly basic and even silly, especially if you're headed to an Irish wake. But travel is hard on your body, particularly if you are stressed out or frazzled from making last-minute travel plans. Go out of your way to hydrate and make it a point to eat something healthy every few hours. Try to drink a glass of water for every hour of plane travel, and offset each cocktail with a non-alcoholic beverage.
Hide in Plain Sight
Wear the largest headphones you own. Even though I usually rock custom fitted ear buds, ginormous headphones and wraparound sunglasses are clothing's version of a Do Not Disturb sign, allowing you to be acceptably anti-social. I twist my hair into a bun and use pins to hold it up so I don't have to deal with it.
Use Social Media Selectively
Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter are extremely convenient for to sharing news, remembrances and information regarding memorial services, but keep sensitive information off your public timeline. Yes, your Klout score will plummet when you drop off the radar for a few days, but no one wants to be the mayor of the mortuary on Foursquare.
Hit The Drug Store
Bring a large purse, and stuff it with Puff's Plus tissues. They are vastly superior to Kleenex. Even if you're not prone to tears, there is something therapeutic about having a travel-size pack at the ready for someone in need. I also pack waterproof mascara (Rimmel is my drugstore brand of choice).
Pack somber toned business attire. If you don't own anything appropriate, go to the nearest Target or similar store and buy something. Pack appropriate footwear. I bring flats or shoes without a heel that will sink into grass. While burial traditions differ from culture to culture, you may find yourself shoveling dirt on a coffin, should the deceased be buried in accordance to Jewish tradition.
Don't Mention Your Thoughts on the Afterlife
As much as funerals pretend to be about the dead, their primary purpose is to serve as a cathartic process for the living and for those seeking closure. Sometimes this means bringing together many friends from various sectors of a person's life, including friends with differing religious and political views.
Unless you are the spiritual advisor for the next of the kin, your feelings on God's will don't need to be shared at a funeral or on a Facebook wall. I always defer to the wishes of the most grief stricken, usually the person at the funeral closest to the dead. Grieving people are raw, and while you might think you are offering words of comfort by mentioning heaven or God's will or Jesus' great plan, unless the other mourners share those identical beliefs, you are most likely not offering any comfort. If there is a Jesus, God or Flying Spaghetti Monster, I promise you, he (or she) will forgive you for not bringing it up.
I avoid religious stickiness by focusing on the human element. If you can't think of anything appropriate to say, stick to "I am sorry for your loss." That's human. Offer to help out with arrangements -- bring lasagna, pick up a few bottles of wine for after the service or make it known that you are available to help out with any small task. I was honored and grateful to help when a bereaved widower asked me to find an appropriate guest book for memorial service in Texas as he feared his late wife's sewing circle friends might pick out something "too Jesus-y."
Rituals serve an important role in giving context and community for loss. Perhaps if we took a lesson from our Latin neighbors and let death in a little closer, funerals wouldn't feel quite so foreign, and we could learn to celebrate death and life together as two sides of the same coin.