Death (age dependent physiological death)
Biological death occurs when the performance of body tissues and organs falls below that required for life support. The senescent span of life is characterized by an increasing probability of death, but death can come at any age by accidents, violence and warfare, neglect, abuse, or disease. Death may come before the visible signs of aging are present. The images above were taken on the Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead, 02 November). On the right a family honors their dead adult ancestors by decorating the burial tomb with flowers, garlands, and designs made from pine needles and flowers. The prayers and artifacts on the tombs represent a mixture of traditional Maya and Catholic religious practices. The crucifix behind the flowers, for example, gives the name of the deceased and her date of death. On the left are the graves of infants and children, with each cross representing one grave. This section of the cemetery is larger than the adult section. There are no tombs for the infants and children, instead their bodies are buried in coffins deposited into shallow graves. In the 1980s the mortality rate for all Guatemalan infants and children under 5 years old was ten percent of all live births (100 per 1000 live births). For Spain in 1985 the under-5 mortality rate was 7 per 1000 live births. The rate for the Maya was higher than for Ladinos, at about 15 percent of all Maya live births. Childbirth was and still is a danger for Maya women, with up to 300 deaths per 100,000 births (for Spain in 1985 the rate was about 30 per 100,000). Compared with Ladinos, Maya people age at a faster rate, enter the senescent phase of life at an earlier age, and die younger.
The statistics on infant, child, and maternal mortality reflect the poverty, racism, and poor health care suffered by Maya people. Soon after these photographs were taken the author visited the village health center and spoke with the Ladino medical doctor. This man visited the village a few times each month and was the only medical doctor to do so. When asked for statistics on the under-5-year-old mortality rate the doctor replied that there were almost no such deaths. His denial of the reality of the cemetery and the data published by the Guatemalan Ministry of Health is difficult to understand. We often deny or forget about the death of «others», that is, of people outside our social or ethnic group. This amnesia is politically and emotionally convenient. Family and friends do not forget. It is true that the bodies of the deceased are gone, but their spirit is recycled into the hearts and minds of those who loved them and are still alive. [Barry Bogin]