Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos) is a Mexican holiday observed on Nov. 1-2, when families celebrate the lives of deceased loved ones by honoring them with beautiful gifts, colorful altars and visits to their graves, and embrace death as a part of the human experience in joyful festivity.
Compassion & Choices’ Day of the Dead celebration on Nov. 1 in New York City was a beautiful event that honored the memory of New York state advocates who spent their last months of life fighting to pass medical aid-in-dying legislation.
“These brave advocates spent their last months of life advocating for laws to authorize medical aid in dying despite the horrors of their terminal diseases,” said Corinne Carey, New York state director for Compassion & Choices. “And today, as we celebrate and embrace death as a part of the human experience in a colorful and festive celebration, we commit to make medical aid in dying an additional end-of-life option for terminally ill adults in New York.”
Supporters from different cultures, some with faces painted like skulls wore colorful Día de los Muertos dresses and flower crowns in the style of Frida Kahlo, kicked off the celebration with a candlelight procession outside El Museo del Barrio.
Nohemí Garza, Youssef Cohen, William Stubing and Jay Kallio. Next to the altar was one of Miguel’s old chef’s caps and and old T-shirt with the words “Harlem” and “The Bronx” printed on it.
Nilsa Centeno spoke of Miguel, her only son, a former New Yorker whose horrific suffering from brain cancer prompted him to record a bilingual video for Compassion & Choices urging lawmakers nationwide to give terminally ill adults the option of medical aid in dying. Miguel died June 5 in his native Puerto Rico. He was only 35 years old.
Nilsa shared and stared at the videos Miguel recorded in March in English and in Spanish, and this cellphone video he recorded on May 25, just 10 days before his death (Spanish video) — one she had not seen until that day.
“I have found solace in the promise I made to my only son, Miguel, during his last days,” she said in Spanish. “I promised him that I would fight to make medical aid in dying an option for terminally ill people so they would not have to suffer in agony at the end of life like he did.”
Journalists from outlets like CNN en Español, Univision and Telemundo held back their tears as they spoke to Nilsa about Miguel’s horrific death.
José Garza’s voice cracked as he spoke about his wife, Nohemí, a devout Christian who suffered horribly from cancer at the end of her life in 2004. He also urged his fellow Latinos to talk about death as a normal part of life.
The Medical Aid in Dying Act made history in May when the New York State Assembly Health Committee approved the legislation shortly after its introduction. The bill will be reintroduced in the upcoming legislative session that starts in January.
Representatives from the offices of Assistant Speaker Felix W. Ortiz and Assemblymember Robert J. Rodriguez attended to hear the voices of New Yorkers and to show their support of the bill.
Participants also heard from Father Luis Barrios, pastor from Grace Church in New York.
“I believe that the human being has the right to decide how their life will [end],” he said. “Death is only a part of life.”
The event closed with a colorful performance by a skeleton-clad Mexican Folklorico Ballet of New York, who carried what symbolized a wooden casket during a final procession to La Llorona, an indigenous version of the Spanish language folk song about a woman who weeps the death of her children.