Living and Dying – Conversations with Aunt Patty

This holiday season I had the opportunity to spend two days with my Aunt Patty. Over the years, I have enjoyed wide ranging conversations with Patty in regard to religion, spirituality, and the philosophy of the Catholic Church.

We begin our discussion on the way to StAugustine Church. She discussed “The golden thread” that she began observing early in her career. (@ :22min). Great to be with Patty in her element! Exploring the true meaning of Christmas!

Saturday morning we chatted for about an hour together. On Sunday, I attended mass with her – my first time. We also recorded our conversation while driving to and from church and in the driveway of our vacation rental. I wish I could have had more time with her. I find her views both substantive and fascinating. Close to 35 years she has been a board certified chaplain (BCC).

“Go into the patient’s room as a blank slate. Let them write the story. It orients the chaplain to being receptive and lets the patient direct the dialogue. The patient feels supported and empowered. It helps the patient to walk through the hard time.” (@33:00 min)

Patty noted, “In health care it is well recognized: the physical, mental and spiritual… During physical crisis there are a lot of things, a lot of questions, the spiritual journey within them. The chaplain is there to facilitate whatever the person might want to talk about or prayer that the patient might want.”

As we conversed, other thoughts crystallized.  I felt grateful that we have people such as she to bring hope and peace to both the dying (and living) during the final weeks and days of life.  She discussed “The golden thread” that she observed early in her career. This underscores using of “recollection of life” as a modality to build rapport for a chaplain. The power of listening.

I was encouraged by Patty’s experience with the dying. It moved me to say, “these are messages that the living need to hear! ” Her volunteer work at her retirement community emphasizes – exploring life and death in the seasons – fall, winter, spring and summer.

In regard to the thread, Patty said, “Any light in the darkness is usually God. It was like the thread of the Holy Spirit working within this person’s life.  That led them to the place in their life that they are now facing eternity – with whatever they had lived and whatever questions that were left. Where they needed to bring resolution so that they could die in peace. To die in peace means that your heart is right with God.”

“One of the things I appreciate in the teachings of the Catholic Church… God only judges us with what we do with the light of Christ that we are given. God loved us first. He wakes up His life within us… Anyone, who’s heart is oriented to Him, at whatever level of knowledge that is – God is there. He’s always there.  When a person starts engaging with that, there is a process of growth and maturity in Him that takes place throughout our life.” (@ 21:00 min.)

I enjoyed our visit to St. Augustine Church in Lincoln City. Practically, one of us needed to shuttle Aunt Patty to Mass. But, I wanted to explore and recognize that which inspires her. We sat, knelled, read, prayed and sang. She explained each of the proceedings. I would have been lost without her. It all went by rather quickly. Patty said, “Wherever you are – you begin. Frequently, it’s the experience of the heart that helps a person to say – there might be something different here.” Hope. Repent. Joy. Peace. These “four themes of each Sunday leading up to Christmas Day” were hung on the wall with banners.

“The Eucharistic celebration is “one single act of worship” but consists of different elements, which always include “the proclamation of the Word of God; thanksgiving to God the Father for all his benefits, above all the gift of his Son; the consecration of bread and wine, which signifies also our own transformation into the body of Christ; and participation in the liturgical banquet by receiving the Lord’s body and blood” – Wikipedia

Jason Silva: Shots of Awe. “The Three Mexican Deaths”. The first death is the death of innocence, when you first learn that you are mortal and one day you will die. This awareness is a kind of death. The second death is the moment you actually pass away. The third death is the last time someone says your name.

I love how naturally the concepts flow during our conversation. It ignited my curiosity to explore other churches and their traditions. Where might I find a natural fit if I was compelled to attend service each week? More to come…

It might be slightly natural to find ourselves askew when scrutinizing those who find service in professions of a higher calling. How well do we understand the constructs and framework of these disciplines? I knew nothing of the principles by which the chaplain operates. I have only scratched the surface in my brief moments with Patty this weekend.

On and off again, I dabble in “The Perennial Philosophy”, “a comparative study of mysticism by the British writer and novelist Aldous Huxley. Its title derives from the theological tradition of perennial philosophy.” It’s one of my favorite books. It’s very much like an anthology interlinked with commentary by Huxley.

I realized over the weekend I’ve never really put Huxley’s book into context for myself. Two days earlier, a few paragraphs from “Mortification, Non-Attachment, Right Livelihood” had resonated with me in a profound way – I thought it would be useful to run some concepts over with my Aunt. Our conversation affirmed what I had been reading:  I should discern between a clever intellectualism of God vs. a life filled with service and presence of God. Talk the talk vs. walk the walk.  

Did you know? The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the largest Christian church, with approximately 1.3 billion baptised Catholics worldwide as of 2017. As the world’s oldest and largest continuously functioning international institution, it has played a prominent role in the history and development of Western civilisation. The church is headed by the Bishop of Rome, known as the pope.

Dia de los Muertos – Day of the Dead

A month or so prior to Dia de los Muertos—the Day of the Dead— I was asked by Martha and Enrique to help set up a photo booth for a local celebration they were organizing at Yaquina View Elementary. They are a fantastic couple and I have the highest regard for them on so many levels. As the experience emerged – planning, set up, event documenting and editing – I’ve been contemplating many things cultural and spiritual.  

“Diversity is where everyone is invited to the party. Equity means that everyone gets to contribute to the playlist. And inclusion means that everyone has the opportunity to dance.” – Google

Dia de los Muertos is most strongly associated with Mexico, where the tradition originated. In North America it is growing in interest. Martha, Miguel and community partners pulled together many resources. Family, friends, local businesses, and the community converged at Yaquina View Elementary for a splendid evening on November 2nd, 2019.  

My past knowledge of Dia de los Muertos was very limited. We went to the theater and watched Cocoa in 2017. The movie was a stunning visual feast and very much a hero’s journey.  Practically, this was all I was going on. Reflecting on it now, I have much more appreciation for the event, the effort to put the evening together and what it would end up meaning for me.   

I have been reminded that recognizing our loved one’s who have passed is a good exercise. It’s a little embarrassing and I feel a hit of shame: I currently have no pictures of my grandparents, uncles, and father on display in our home. They are still sitting in a box. Why is our home so sanitized of visual symbols of these important characters in our life’s story? I certainly think of them. I have some work to do here. I need to create a home alter or at least hang some pictures for my beloved that have departed.

Waiting… Box of memories – moments in time. Stuck in the closet?! It feels at times like the deeper the love the harder the loss. How I miss you…

As the evening unfolded, we were given a spectacular event. It was a packed house. I’ll let the video do most of the work in regard to the participants and the performances.  I’ve got follow up plans to talk to Miguel Medrano, Leon Valdivia and Martha de Valdivia. How does Day of the Dead fit into their belief systems? Is this more of a symbolic gesture to loved ones who have passed, or do they feel a deeper and intrinsic connection that their loved ones are somehow conscious of their recognition. Are our physical and spiritual planes crossing in this time?

As I began researching the celebration in preparation of writing a couple of links have been insightful.

National Geographic has a very basic overview. (

Georgetown University, Berkley Center for Religion. Peace and World Affairs has an article titled “Day of the Dead in Latin America and the United States”  ( It’s a fascinating overview.

Placing Day of the Dead in our modern context the author notes “we need to be careful about drawing direct lines of ancestry between ancient and modern Day of the Dead celebrations because when we do this, we erase complicated histories of cultural loss and struggle, decontextualizing the tradition from the effects of five centuries of colonization and the resulting alienation from and later re-appropriation of indigenous practices.”

Dia de los Muertos celebrates the lives of the deceased with food, drink, parties, and activities the dead enjoyed in life. The bread was delicious! What an amazing journey we are on.

It’s fascinating how we build our personal history from our experiences and the written and oral communications of others. Finding an inner path that brings peace and meaning is sometimes difficult to separate from the cultural narratives. Belief systems are not a one size fits all situation. Dia de los Muertos has reminded me of death’s beauty and intimacy.  But, we should never force anyone into such things. This a personal journey.

The author closed with “Most of today’s public Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico and the United States are largely invented traditions that, like all cultural practices, grow and change with the times.”

I feel like every day is a renewed personal invention. My narrative is sometimes the same and yet it shifts. What seems critical to me is that we have the freedom to explore and allow that freedom to others. I recently listened to an interview with “Elif Shafak on the Urgent Power of Storytelling”.  At some point she noted that we don’t seek to understand how and what God means in our modern age. I’m not really sure that is true. But, it feels this way to me, sometimes. I’m speaking broadly here. Why are we here? What do we do with this existence? And, isn’t it fascinating that we have the ability to “contemplate” non-existence?!

Martha and Enrique’s daughter. Excellent little helper. Their kids helped set up for the event. This would become the area for the photo booth. I really love how MUCH LOVE Martha and Enrique model. Good people!

Day of the Dead got me thinking… and recognizing that I didn’t make it this far alone. That’s good reminder, for me, and possible others too. Thanks to all who made this evening incredible! My hope is that next year it’s bigger and more inclusive. My homework: hang some photos and create more time to recognize the passing from this plane into the next.