Today and tomorrow we celebrate The Day of the Dead, Dia de los Muertos, All Souls and All Saints Day. It’s a time to celebrate and honor those family members (both blood and chosen) who have left this world for the next.
I have celebrated this day in a very private way for over a decade, reminiscing on the departed, remember our good times and their accomplishments and sharing a meal and a glass with them after sunset, feeding their portion to a fire as a final gesture of remembrance.
I was introduced to the custom by a friend whose husband had recently passed. She invited me to her home, and to a table that was set for nearly a dozen people. She and I ate mostly in silence, and then we took portions from each plate out to the fire she had set in her backyard circle. A few years later, after losing 10 people from my social circle in 10 months (including my father and my husband), I started counseling my friends to memorialize birthdays rather than death days, as a mode of recovery from our tremendous and collective loss. But when you reach a certain age, even that starts to take on the airs of a perpetual wake.
The Day of the Dead is in a way, an emotional efficiency. It also takes those remembrances to a more communal and joyous level. I continued my private rituals, but also started attending community celebrations. These are photos from 2017 at the Seattle Center.
This year, the COVID-19 precautions have taken most celebrations virtual, and in Mexico, the graveyards are closed to families today and tomorrow. So earlier this week, I scoured my local Mexican grocers for pan du muertos, sugar skulls, chiseled paper banners, copal and candies, and built my own offrenda, with special focus on my mother who died earlier this year, and her parents who passed on in the previous century.
Inspired by an invite to a ZOOM Holiday Happy Hour this past Friday, I carried out the theme by dressing as my version of a Catrina. I asked a neighbor if she had time to take a couple of photos of me on my patio, and she said, “Yes, or we could go across the street to the graveyard…” She arrived with long stem marigolds and her camera, and the sun came out, and it became a perfect day.
I took the opportunity to decorate a grave. When you scatter ashes, there is no grave to decorate on Dia de los Muertos, so I decided to decorate someone else’s. At first, it was going to be a random grave, but ‘one has to be careful about whose spirits you call’ so I settled on celebrating one of Seattle’s famous figures instead.
It was a reflective experience, which I now plan to repeat in coming years. To learn how you can celebrate the day, go to https://dayofthedead.holiday/. If you are curious about the bench I sat on, it’s called a mourning chair, which you can read more about here.