Held in November, Dias de Los Muertos the Day of the Dead - can help teach Americans to be more comfortable with the dying process, says Dr. Judith Kitzes, M.D., MPH, professor and section chief for Internal Medicine's Palliative Care division.

Each year more Americans become familiar with the Mexican tradition of Dias  de Los Muertos the Day of the Dead.  Celebrated on November 1, the day is based on the ancient belief that one day each year the dead are given divine permission to visit their relatives and friends.  From trails of marigolds and food to altars built to honor the deceased, the Mexican view of death as a natural consequence of living has been hailed by many healthcare professionals as much healthier than the modern American view that all too often greets death and dying with fear and avoidance.

            "Too often in our society, people are terrified of dying," says Dr. Judith Kitzes, M.D., MPH, professor in the UNM School of Medicine Department of Medicine and section chief of the Palliative Care division.  Technology has increased lifespans yet made death seem to be more distant almost as a personal failure to some people, she said.  Yet to be able to discuss death as a family as a member is dying can provide meaning to patients as well as those who love them.

            The teaching hospitals associated with the UNM HSC School of Medicine report an average of 750 inpatient deaths a year with major causes being such chronic condition as neoplasm, heart and pulmonary disease and diabetes.

Training physicians to work with those patients and to be involved in end-of-life decision making is the goal of a $200,000 grant the UNM Health Sciences has received from the Arthur Vining Davis Foundation.  The grant includes medical school training as well as outreach continuing education programs that physicians from throughout the state can access, and working with diverse populations to incorporate family into end-of-life decision making.

"We need to move away from the fear that has been engineered within this society during the last century and more toward seeing death as a part of life," said Kitzes.


Contact: Cindy Foster, 272-3322