Sunday, October 30, 2011

Day of the Dead, Personalized

                                                  November 1st is the Day of the Dead.

It is celebrated in most Latin American countries. It kind of has a sketchy reputation here in the US.

And I'll admit I was a bit creeped out by it myself. So I looked into it. It turns out the reality is not very scary at all. On the night of November 1st, families simply pay remembrance to their loved ones who have moved on. They acknowledge their memory. They celebrate their lives. They even have a party!

Many Mexican families also light candles on the graves of their loved ones and spend the night praying for their souls, telling stories, recalling fond memories, shedding a few tears, etc.

Actually, I think this sounds like a beautiful holiday and tradition. Here in America, when someone dies  it sort of feels like we rush to bury them and then move on with our lives as quickly as possible.

I don't know about you, but for me, those loved ones whom I have lost are always with me. I think of them often, and wonder what their lives would be like now if they were still alive. Even though they are gone, they live on in my heart and mind, with love, every single day.

So, in honor of The Day of the Dead, I want to share about a group of people no longer on this earth who made a gigantic impact on me.

                           In the 1980's I was a young pediatric nurse. I was invited to be
                        a nurse at hemophilia camp (I'm in the back row, 3rd from the right).

These boys, as you can imagine, were in heaven at Camp Blood Brothers, as it was affectionately called. For a full week, they could run, jump, swim, hike, climb trees -- basically do all of the things that the parents of little hemophiliac boys always tell them to NOT do.

       I was a nurse at hemophilia camp for four summers (I'm peeking my head out in the very back row). Each camp was fully staffed with doctors and nurses.

We basically let the boys fall and injure themselves, then with gigantic smiles on their faces, they were carried to our outdoor treatment center to be patched up and infused with IV clotting factor.

As we infused them with factor and tended to their bleeding wounds amongst the oaks and pines, they would laugh and joyfully tell us the stories of how they fell on their head or smacked their back on the diving board.

We simply let them be boys.

Unfortunately, in the early 80's this clotting factor was chock full of the AIDS virus. But nobody knew it at the time. So nearly every young man you see in these photos was HIV positive.

The camp counselors were young men with hemophilia. In their early 20's -- the same age as me -- these guys were unlike anyone I had ever met. Not only were they mentors to the little boys, they were just amazing human beings. They knew their days were numbered. They were scared to death. But they were determined to have fun, to live meaningful lives as long as fate permitted, and to help the young ones somehow find their way.

                         Most of the hemophiliacs you see in these photos have since died of AIDS.

When I volunteered for that first hemophilia camp, I had no idea what a profound, life changing, and yes, heartbreaking -- experience was in store for me.

As a pediatric nurse, I've always said that every year I've lived past the age of 21 have been gravy. I've been unspeakably blessed with a full life, full of love, a supportive family, meaning, laughter and diversions.

So on this Day of the Dead, I remember you, Marshall. And Steve. And Mark, And Eric...All of you. I celebrate your short lives. You will never know how many countless loved ones you inspired, and continue to inspire, to this day.

Because of you, I understand how fleeting life is, and how much we need to appreciate every joyful minute.

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