Tami Schwerin remembers the night a deputy knocked on the door to say her 20-year-old son Zafer had overdosed on heroin at college.
“I was in shock. I didn’t even cry,” said Schwerin, founder and executive director of the nonprofit Abundance North Carolina.
Relatives and friends comforted Schwerin, her husband Lyle Estill and their children for seven days as they brought Zafer’s body – in a pine box in the back of the beat-up pickup truck that he loved – to a burial site on the family’s land.
They dug the grave together, sharing their grief in words and music.
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Schwerin had been pondering on the topic of death since a December workshop on grief and dying. A friend suggested having a Death Faire, and although she had second thoughts after Zafer died, she realized it was the only thing she could do, Schwerin said. Some people don’t understand, she said, but it is healing.
“If you don’t deal with your grief, you can’t reach that joy, so this is going to be a really joyful, meaningful celebration with music and dance,” Schwerin said.
The Death Faire and a Día de los Muertos celebration, co-sponsored by Abundance NC and the cultural group El Vínculo Hispano, is from noon to midnight Saturday in Pittsboro. The Mexican holiday of Día de los Muertos – Day of the Dead – honors ancestors on Nov. 1-2 with colorful parties and offerings.
Daniel Foor, a therapist specializing in ancestral medicine, will be Saturday’s keynote speaker, leading a conversation about ancestor reverence and ritual.
Respect and connections to ancestors are woven into many cultures, whether through dreams, devotions or offerings, Foor said. Part of what he will do at the Death Faire is normalize those things, he said, and share ways people can apply the teachings to their own lives.
People see (death) as just an end only, and not the start of a different kind of relationship.
Daniel Foor, therapist
“Over half of Americans report believing in ghosts. A whole lot of people have contact experiences with those who have passed, either in dreams or just feeling like they’re present or some kind of synchronicity happens throughout the day, and they understand it to be a sign from their departed loved one,” he said. “I think a lot of people feel shame about that or caution about who they would share it with.”
Foor’s journey started over 20 years ago as a student of world religions, from pagan and Native American ways to the Ifa and Orisa traditions of West Africa.
The inability to help our ancestors and ourselves can create a legacy of family trauma, he said. The field of behavioral epigenetics theorizes that our ancestors’ traumatic experiences leave molecular scars on our DNA that then are expressed in our psychological, physical and mental health.
“Our culture doesn’t do grief that well, and so it’s actually really important to honor the sacredness of grieving and to recognize that there really is a loss and a change when someone passes,” he said.
Abundance North Carolina will hold the Death Faire from noon to midnight Saturday, Nov. 5, at The Plant, 220 Lorax Lane in Pittsboro. The Vendor Village will be open from noon to 5 p.m., and there will be workshops and conversations, entertainment, food, storytelling, short films, arts and crafts.
Advance tickets are $5 for children, ages 5 to 16, and $10 for adults. Children under 5 are admitted free. Tickets cost an extra $5 at the door.
Find more information at bit.ly/2eM6QFO.