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Santa Muerte

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My family name, comas diaz, means death and or dying in Spanish.  As far as I can remember, I have experienced a special relationship with death.  You see, death communicates in a strange way with me.   That is, it lets me know when a loved one dies.  For example, death speaks to me through premonitions, dreams, and physical reactions.  My first memorable encounter with the death of a loved one was during a lucid dream.  Dressed as a surgeon, I tried to save the life of a young man in an operating room.  “I hope no one died in Puerto Rico,” I told my husband Fred when I woke up.  “This dream was strange, ” I said.   “Dream?  That was no dream, you had a terrible nightmare all night long,” Fred replied.  The absence of messages from family that day relieved my anxiety.  When night approached, my cousin Alberto called.   “Our young cousin Chalito was in surgery last night after a car accident, “ he announced.  “Unfortunately, the doctors could not save him,” Alberto concluded.

 

My second significant encounter with the death of a loved one arrived in the form of a somatic reaction.  It happened like this: Fred and I were walking during a beautiful spring afternoon in Charleston.  Without a warning, I suddenly became physically weak.  “I need to lay down,” I said.  Upon returning to the hotel I jumped into bed.  When I woke up from a nap, Fred told that we had received a message:  My paternal grandmother Petra had died that afternoon.

Several years later, while visiting a remote chapel in Russia, a voice inside my head said: “Light a candle for me.”  I recognized the voice.  Then I realized that Fred’s grandmother Mina had died, and that she wanted us to pray for her.  Consequently, we lit a candle for grandmother Mina.  Afterwards, we learned that she had died at the same time we entered the chapel.

This is how I made peace with death’s announcements.   I grew up in Puerto Rico listening to people’s tales of despedidas—a belief that the deceased visit loved ones to say farewell before moving on to the next cycle.   The following family story illustrates a despedida.   My great grandmothers were psychics.  When one of them died--according to the family lore--her spirit visited my other great grandmother to say farewell. Like my great grandmothers’ story, I witnessed many despedida tales.

Death has been on my mind lately because my father died in December 2013. We had an ambivalent relationship, consequently, his departure was difficult for me.  Proud of his daughter, my machista father resented that I was not a male.  Papi had a traumatic upbringing.  As a result, he became a warrior who at times could not distinguish friends from foes. A tortured man, my father exorcised his demons in the presence of loved ones. Notwithstanding Papi’s ambivalence, I was surprised that he did not say goodbye to me after he departed.  Instead of a despedida, I sensed a special kind of energy:  I felt Papi’s love without his ambivalence.   Death seemed to have repaired the father-daughter bond.  Was Santa Muerte responsible for this gift? 

A Latina saint of death, Santa Muerte (Holy Death) is associated with healing and protection. She brings forth renewal, rebirth, and transformation. However, Santa Muerte has a sinister aspect, one that has been associated with the culture of violence. Outcasts, outsiders, and criminals  invoke Santa Muerte.  Within this emanation, she is the dark counterpart of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Patroness of the Americas.  Like Guadalupe, Santa Muerte is a syncretistic goddess that combines indigenous beliefs with Catholic practices.  As a goddess of death, Santa Muerte’s main role is to ensure a good path into the afterlife.  

I believe that my father found a safe way for his transition.  I don’t know if Santa Muete paved his way.  But this I know for sure:   I did not need to witness Papi’s despedida in order to understand that in death, my father loved his daughter even though I was not a male. 

 

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As a psychologist, healer, and writer Lillian Comas is interested in spirituality, feminism, and multiculturalism.
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Comments

  • D. R. Bartlette
    D. R. Bartlette Saturday, 04 January 2014

    Lillian,
    How magical that you posted about the Thin Lady just now...I have lately been feeling very drawn to Her and trying to learn everything I can about this very unusual Saint/Goddess. I'd love to learn more, if you want to share. Please message me!

  • Lillian Comas
    Lillian Comas Saturday, 04 January 2014

    Hi D. R:
    Magical, indeed. I am not surprised that you have feeling drawn to the Thin Lady. Santa Muerte is gaining popularity in the US. An enigmatic syncretistic figure, she reminds her devotees of the complementary of the opposites. To me, she is an archetype of transformation. Thank you for your comment. Let's continue the conversation.

  • Lillian Comas
    Lillian Comas Saturday, 04 January 2014

    Santa Muerte photo by Frederick Jacobsen taken at Museo de las Americas, San Juan Puerto Rico.

  • Anne Newkirk Niven
    Anne Newkirk Niven Thursday, 09 January 2014

    I found your essay quite moving; my father came to me in a dream the night after he died during open-heart surgery when he was 50 (and I was 26.) I knew it was him by the unusual clarity of the dream as well as by what he told me. With his characteristic Ozark-born wit, he said, "When I woke up and I didn't hurt, I knew that I was dead." He had endured a previous open-heart surgery after his first coronary five years earlier, and had loudly complained about the incredible pain in his chest during recovery. I knew it was my dad! Thank you for reminding me of this memory. Peace.

  • Lillian Comas
    Lillian Comas Friday, 10 January 2014

    Thank you, Anne, for sharing your experience. As mirrors of each others, we reflect our individual and collective stories. Your recollection not only resonates with my experience, but also with those of other people who have felt the presence their departed loved ones.

  • Ted Czukor
    Ted Czukor Friday, 10 January 2014

    Anne and Lillian - My mother came to me in a lucid dream shortly after she passed away (age 59) from pancreatic cancer. As you have said, from her wonderful sense of humor there was no question that it was her and that the communication was real - and that she was well and healthy again. I will never quite get used to the fact that I am now years older than she ever got to be.

  • Lillian Comas
    Lillian Comas Saturday, 11 January 2014

    Hi Ted: Thank so mo much for sharing with us. Interestingly, i just heard that scientists who study consciousness have identified these types of experiences as evidence that consciousness is separate from the brain.

  • Anne Newkirk Niven
    Anne Newkirk Niven Saturday, 11 January 2014

    ah, Ted -- something else we have in common. At the age of 54, I've now outlived the lifespan of both my mother and father. Since we were estranged from my parent's family-of-origin on both sides that meant I had no older relatives as such.

    Hence, I've been the Elder (and, as I've thought of it "Next in Line" for Santa Murerte) among my siblings, children, nieces, nephews and even my husband, since I was 28. I'm always amazed when my age-peers get to this stage, since I've been there for decades.

  • Ted Czukor
    Ted Czukor Saturday, 11 January 2014

    Anne - It does create a more mature perspective on life, doesn't it? In one way more fatalistic and less expecting of miracles, but in another way more marveling and appreciative of the passing beauty (and occasional miracles)we are able to see in the meantime.

    Lillian - An article I read on NPR concluded that whether these experiences are "evidence" of consciousness being separate from the brain (as we all believe) is completely dependent on the belief system of the scientific observer. It still comes down to subjective interpretation. Still, you and I and Anne know what we know!

  • Lillian Comas
    Lillian Comas Friday, 17 January 2014

    Hi Ted: Thanks for the information. I totally agree with you: Anne, you and I know what we know!

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