death as teacher

my face grows long with the conversation between life and death 1990
sunday afternoon 1994


death. i have known death since before i could walk or talk. i have known death in my heart and my body. i have known death in my spirit and my mind.


i could have left death alone. i could have continued to pretend that she was not standing there next to me. i could have abandoned her in the desert. not offered a seat at the table, a hot cup of coffee. i could have been inhospitable, turned my back and pretended. there is only life.

but thankfully

i am mexican.

through my young life my father always taught me death. through the animals we raised. through his visions when his grandmother passed. through my own young attempts at dropping my body.

there is a tradition. there is a path.

pomegranate 1994
pomegranate 1994

death was patient and kind until i could see that i was already dancing with her and i could remember. we mexicans embrace our teacher, our guide, our dear friend. there is nothing to fear here. death is self. death is life. death is spirit.

family tree 2005

when i finally turned toward death with open eyes, my world expanded. i could more clearly see through my physical experience into the reality of spirit and eternity. these are uncomfortable lessons, but these are the lessons that make life LIFE.

rabbit gown 2005

befriending death does not make today easier. it does not take away the grief, the pain, the huge hole that seems to be vibrating in my chest. the vast sea below my feet that opens its giant maw and sings my name with every ghost i ever gathered intact.

death rattle 2003

i think when i first began my quest i thought it might. that i would somehow lift up into a different experience altogether. but no. i still have my body and my heart. when the family tree splits open and falls over, i am still there to feel the roots pulling against the earth.

my dear friend death teaches me the song of grief. teaches me to open my mouth and sing. open my skin and vibrate. open my heart and feel. she tells me how strong i am. how deep and true.

virgin and death baby 2002

i do not love the lessons death brings me. death is with me today. right this minute as i write. i just confirmed sadsad news. great loss. life altering. i could be devastated, but i have learned. i feel myself transforming even as i type these letters into words. howling. singing. typing. being. i am becoming something wholly more myself living my LIFE.

snake skull gown 2009

i trust that i will understand the purpose of this great loss someday.

i will endure and live to know how to greet death with greater and greater grace. how to invite her in. knowing that she is me and we are friends.

skeleton balancing on mushroom 2011

i live as if i am holding hands with death and we are walking gently on mamiearth, learning what we learn and being true.

through this season, my consciousness will expand. i will walk lighter. i will create. i will endure.

i will give birth to birds.

because i am sky.

and death told me stay.


  1. Jorge

    To live for those who have left, to live for their suffering. To honor their love for you by living. But live living, laughing, dancing, painting, crying, feeling for/with them. Becoming.
    This reminds me of a poem:

    Secret of Life

    by Diana Der-Hovanessian

    Once during the war on a bus going to Portsmouth a navy yard worker told me the secret of life.

    The secret of life, he said, can never be passed down one generation to the other.

    The secret of life, he said, is hunger. It makes an open hand.

    The secret of life is money. But only the small coins.

    The secret of life, he said, is love. You become what you lose.

    The secret of life, he said, is water. The world will end in flood.

    The secret of life, he said, is circumstance.

    If you catch the right bus at the right time you will sit next to the secret teller

    who will whisper it in your ear.

  2. colleen

    Tears of understanding and grief are flowing….when 2 years ago my father was on his death bed, he said to me, with a facial expression that looked like pain, and disbelief…”I dont now why we have to live this life? why do we have to go through this….I dont know” and we just cried in eachothers arms….and it still hurts like shit when I remember it…..Death, it is always here, better to make friends with it. Thank you for your words, what a gift you have…..

    Love and Peace

  3. eugenia

    before my father passed, he would live his youth in his amnesia, and would just tell me, i am just existing, i wondered, why could he not see how much i loved him and fight to stay alive, thought maybe cause i let him down many years ago, and most of his kids did not become self-sufficient, only i. that must have been hard for a father to see his children be so dependent. instead of helping him.
    i feel my father even though he has been gone 9 years, and this moment i cry for him so much.
    he was my real prince, never had to ask for anything, but alas, i do have a son, who brings me joy, but do not want what happened with my father, love can be so harsh,,i live my life and i know he is proud of me, because i feel him at all times..

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