Happy Day of the Dead
By Verna Barrientos
Feliz Dia de los Muertos. This day of celebrating the lives of our lost loved ones is a day I look forward to all year. It feels good to be able to not just mourn the death of loved ones, but to celebrate their lives and their essence. I did not personally celebrate Dia de los Muertos (DDLM) until several years ago. Sure I had heard about it before this time, but I did not really know what it was all about. Before learning more about DDLM I felt like this was a day that other people celebrated; that it was not for me. Now I embrace this day as a time when I can celebrate my family history by honoring ancestors and thinking about relatives who have died.
A little background on DDLM: this day of remembrance began in Mexico around 3000 years ago and was celebrated by Aztec and Nahua people. It takes place every year on November 2 and is a day that recognizes death as a part of the cycle of life. Oftentimes ofrendas (alters) and cempasuchil (marigolds) are a part of the celebration. Items on ofrendas typically include flowers, candles, food, drinks, photos, and personal mementos of the person being remembered. People will also clean and decorate the graves of dead loved ones. Cempasuchil are often used during DDLM celebrations at gravesites and on ofrendas. This is done because it is said that these flowers help guide the dead back to the land of the living to see their ofrendas.
I have lost several people, and pets, in my life. One of the most difficult deaths I have lived through was the death of my dad in 2005. My dad was ill for several months, and was in hospice in order to ensure his last weeks were as comfortable as possible. A few months after my dad died my mom and I started attending grief groups through my dad’s hospice. To this day I still feel like my mom and I are able to talk joyfully about my dad, to celebrate his life, while my other siblings (who did not attend these grief groups) are not able to share stories about my dad as easily. It is through these grief groups that I learned that death is a part of life, it will happen to all of us, and that it is alright (even healing) to talk about.
That ease around talking about my dad, about sharing ways he touched our lives, is the same ease and joyfulness I see within those who celebrate DDLM. It is beautiful to go to the cemetery and see families sitting at gravesites having a picnic. The ofrendas are another stunning way that we celebrate our dearly departed loved ones. Gathering trinkets and favorite foods that remind us of our dead loved ones is powerful. Creating ofrendas gives us a chance to feel close to those who have physically left the earth but who are still very much a part of us.
I am so grateful that there is a special day that I can feel close to my dad again. One of my favorite things about DDLM is that through this celebration I learned to be comfortable talking about, and celebrating, the dead when within our society death is seen as a taboo topic. Feliz Dia de los Muertos to everyone!