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Celebrating Your Life on The Day of the Dead

Ghoulish newsflash: it’s the two-day affair known as the Day of the Dead — the Mexican holiday where families welcome back the souls of their dead relatives for one hell of a “welcome back, but not really” party. (This is my second favorite holiday of the year, next to National Fudge Day on June 16th.)

We won’t be welcoming back your great Aunt Esmerelda or my Grandpa Horace here today — to be clear, you aren’t reading about how to hold a séance (sorry!) — but we will connect the dots between how the ancient Aztecs saw death as an integral, ever-present part of life and how the Day of the Dead can help you revel in your aliveness. We’re going to spend the next four minutes of your life talking about how much time you have left, and how you want that time to actually BE — as the ultimate way to make today the Day of the Un-Dead for yourself.

How to Celebrate Your Life on The Day of the Dead (in 6 easy steps):

Step 1: Pour your drink of choice (I’m into mojitos lately, but I don’t want to sway you if you prefer a nice herbal tea or something that won’t land you in AA).

Step 2: Set the timer for 3 minutes and reflect on the life of a passed loved one. Do a classic Day of the Dead thing and raise your Collins glass (or steaming hot mug of chamomile) to the deceased person of your choice, recollecting the best things about them, cherishing the life they lived. (Friendly warning: this isn’t the time to lament why this person jilted you in their will, or to grieve the gaping hole of loss they left in your life. Let’s keep this light! It’s your party and I know you can cry if you want to, but really — let’s not. Maybe pick a less emotionally charged dead person to cherish for this step.)

Step 3: Count the number of Mondays you’ve been alive so far. (Even the most mathematically challenged can adeptly multiply their # of years x 52). Marvel at the miracle of your life — how your heart has been thumping at 35 million beats per year and will continue to do so until you keel over (I’m at 1.58 billion so far and with a mom who died prematurely of a bad ticker, I’m grateful for every 100,000 beats my heart agrees to squeeze out each day). You are here — despite all the bullshit you’ve surely forged your way through in your spectacle of a lifetime so far — and isn’t it fabulous to still have a pulse?

Step 4: Determine the number of Mondays you have left in your life. We must size the prize. Take your average life expectancy — so 78 for males, 83 for females — and minus your current age. (If you don’t identify as male or female you can average the two at about 80 years and then lop off your current age from there.)
Multiply your number of years left by 52 weeks in the year. That’s your total number of Mondays left, friend (give or take… hopefully more on the give side than the take side.)
If math gives you hives, use this dummy-proof calculator here.
What impact does it have to see your number of weeks left? Does it ignite a sense of urgency? Remind you of your temporariness? Cause an existential crisis? 👈 Oh jeez, sorry about that.
I encourage you to reflect on your impermanence to help spike your perceived value of being alive. If you knew you were going to live forever, for example, your life would be entirely un-precious, wouldn’t it? You’d take everything for granted because that’s what people who live for eternity do. It’s hard to savor a trip to the south of France when you know you can revisit it 7,450,000+ more times. It’s hard to appreciate the value of a meaningful friendship when you know you’ll have 36,345,950+ more friends. It’s hard to motivate yourself to go for that big promotion at work when you know you can throw your name in the ring at any of your next several billion careers. It’s hard to cherish life when you’re invincible. So, reality check: you’re not invincible! You’re a slowly rotting corpse! No really: you and your cells are decaying an imperceptible yet indisputable rate from your terminal disease called Life. So maybe let your finite number of weeks act as a motivator to live like you mean it?

Step 5: Pick ONE THING to feel more alive between now and the end of the month. This isn’t about a radical life overhaul, but more of a tidying of the edges, a tweak, a trim, a wee little edit. Banksy ExhibitMost of us let our vitality wither on the vine during The Plague, so you might want to plan an outing to feel less like an invalid and more like a Human Who Does Things from Time to Time. Ideas: make a reservation at a restaurant you’ve never been to… register for a free online course (OMG what is blockchain? There are courses that can explain these kinds of life mysteries)… make a new South African recipe and maybe even invite people over to eat it with you… buy tickets for a cool museum exhibit (check out the ironic pic of me at the Banksy show in Chicago a few weeks ago)… resurrect a book club… or maybe you want to reignite your creativity or give an old hobby a try again? Bottom line: plan one thing you know will add more life to your life and then admire it in your calendar. (Oh, and then go do it.)

Step 6: Have an “I’m Alive” party with yourself — kind of like a gratuitous birthday party but without having to invite your insufferable relatives.

  • Make or order in your favorite meal.
  • Use the good dishes and utensils.
  • Order a cake with “Happy I’m Not Dead Day!” piped across its chocolatey surface and show some spirit by blowing out a smattering of candles on said cake.
  • Order the funniest/ tackiest balloons you can find (or the prettiest ones, depending on your vibe).
  • Do something that makes your heart rate respond &/or that makes you feel undeniably alive (dancing? Downward dogging? Karaoke? Sexing? Glass blowing?).
  • I’m not going to stop you if you want to buy yourself a present (because gifts are my love language and I am totally buying myself these slippers and I even clicked on the gift wrap option from Amazon).
  • Look back at photos of “your one wild and precious life,” marveling that you’ve made it this far (especially in light of your raucous adolescence?). Appreciate how the glow of youth has perhaps made way for the worn and wonderful edges of wisdom and experience (i.e.: crow’s feet).
  • This doesn’t really have to be a solo party; invite others if they won’t annoy you. You can be generous and celebrate the fact they aren’t dead too, or just keep things laser focused on your own aliveness.

The Day of the Dead isn’t about mourning and it certainly isn’t just about those adorable skull sugar cookies. Sure, you can honor your ancestors, which is an awfully nice and traditional thing to do. But I encourage you to use this auspicious occasion to its fullest extent: shine the spotlight on your own ephemerality. Get ruthlessly real with yourself. Identify an area worth sprucing up while you’re fortunate to still be above ground. Celebrate the shit out of your aliveness. Don’t lose this chance on el Día de los Muertos to live a decidedly un-dead kind of life.

Jodi Wellman

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