I'm a firm believer in adoption. Whether that's adopting friends who are like family or adopting traditions that you really believe in. It's a good thing, to see the beauty and good in something or someone else and to bring that to your life and to your world.
I've adopted Dia de Muertos. It's a holiday and a perspective that I need in my life.
I didn't know much about it until I moved to New Mexico, where it's much more celebrated. I got to see so many more people (of all colors) celebrating it. Right after Halloween, there was this explosion of food, color and community, and I started to want to know more.
I think I've mentioned it here before, though not often, but my dad passed away when I was extremely young. Sometimes I hesitate to mention it for fear people will dismiss the deep hole that it left. It's a different grieving process, too. I think I've spread out the stages of grief through my whole life. The sadness for what I never had--it's persistent. Denial? Anger? I could pinpoint times when I went through that, too.
For me, though, Dia De Muertos helps me reach acceptance.
Death, the dead and dying? They're scary, right? It's instinctive to fear that, and to fear losing people. There's a time and a place for crying, for that darkness to settle in around you, and for you to not fight it, and just...grieve.
But what if we could turn that on its ear? What if we could take something that everyone fears naturally, and...change it? And that's what this does. Skulls get roses and daisies and are splashed in bright colors, hung everywhere cheerfully. Altars or ofrendas are put up with beautiful sweets, mementos of the person and what they meant, and treats they loved. Big family meals are made, and stories are told to remember the people that have passed on. Every.year. Every year with laughter, music, color and celebration, you remember. What a beautiful way to do things. Doesn't that seem like the way to remember someone you love? Isn't that what you'd want to see, if indeed you could look down on those you loved after you were gone? A big, bright beautiful party full of food and laughter? It's what I'd most like to see, and a way I think I can honor and remember my dad. I choose this over dark days and tears. I choose to remember, but not just remember, to celebrate.
I painted my face as a Catrina for fun and because I think it's beautiful.
I did this because I choose to remember this way.
And if you're interested...here's what everything on my altar is about. There are pictures of my dad and me, my whole family, and just him on the left. The license plate behind it is there because the word on it (which I won't disclose for internet safety reasons) is the single most important word that I have been gifted with, because it assures me just how loved I always was and am. Next to that is the poster my dad left when I was born. It lets people know that he was off to see me, but there was coffee on in case they wanted a cup. I love it because it speaks to his character, and his honest desire to be kind to people. The journal is because he was a writer (a beautiful one) and he loved music. It runs in the blood.
The small chest held letters I wrote to him at various points in my life and mementos. The crown is there because it reminded me of how little girls want to be their daddy's little princess, and how much I wanted to be his. Some of the traditional ofrenda fixings are there too, like the skulls, candle and flowers. I made sourdough bread, which was my dad's favorite, in place of the pan de muertos, to make it more true to who he was and who I am today. I put a bowl of chili out, because he also loved chili, and it's traditional to leave (and also eat) the foods that your loved one loved on this day.
There was still moments of sadness, even as I set this up, and even now as I type this. It sucks growing up without your dad. It sucks to have that hole in your life, and it sucks to not feel like you can talk about it and be understood. It sucks to just hear stories about someone who makes up half of who you are, and for there to never be enough stories, never enough words or pictures to fill the ache.
But today? It's for remembering. It's for celebrating what someone meant to you, and choosing to be happy they existed. So that's what I'll do.
Happy Dia De Muertos
May we all remember the beautiful people who went on before us.