When I was in middle school the parents of a classmate died in an accident. I remember going to their house to pay our respects. As I stood there in the middle of that sad scene all I could think of, was how grateful I was that I had never lost anyone close to me.
All my family was still alive. Thru the years I would check in and take inventory of all of my family, mom, dad, sister, grandparents, cousins and yes everyone was still there; alive.
During a family road trip, one of my oldest aunt's husband fell ill. They lived in the southern part of Columbia. A group of us had gone to visit. This was a big deal for us; traveling by car for three days down south with all the cousins.
The night we arrived, the uncle had a seizure. Later they discovered he had cancer and a year later he died. During his treatment he and my aunt moved into my grandparents' house in the Capital, Bogota.
I spent most of my weekends growing up in that house. I remember seeing him slowly decaying, till there was nothing left.
I also remember how my aunt and grandmother took care of him and how it seemed that they too died a little.
Still at that time I remembered being thankful that it was no one close to me. I could not relate to their pain, but I could see it in their eyes, listen to it in their conversations.
After he passed away we had to sleep in the room where he died, and I was really frightened. Nobody ever spoke about death, but it seemed like a painful, very difficult thing to deal with.
When my sister committed suicide, I learned the pain of my classmate and my aunt.
It was deep; like falling in a dark pit that had no end.
At least the beginning felt like that. She was the closest person in my family, my best friend, and I had been responsible for her for a while. It has been 15 years since her passing, and even though I have worked thru most of my feelings of guilt about the way she died, there are moments where her absence sucks the air out of my life.
Since she died I have been learning ways to understand, educate, and integrate death into my life. I read about it, speak about it, I celebrate it.
It has allowed me to value life as the biggest gift.
Now that I am a mother, I often have conversation with the kids about death. We have rituals and set up altars.
We also remember my sister often. Her pictures are all around my house, and some of her things are my most precious belongings. The kids know her, we have even talked about the way she died. None of this has been easy, but I would not have the family I have today if it was not for the lessons from this painful experience.
It is my hope that when I die, my family will celebrate my life. I wish for this celebration to be filled with rituals, music, food and community, and I hope that joy and pain make room for healing.
- Angela Salamanca