In the last five years I have lost as many family members…Five. To some that sounds like a lot, to others it does not….everything is relative. Still, in my world it felt like…too much.
Searching for understanding and acceptance in my grief, I came to my own history as a Mexicana (Link to previous post HERE) and the Mexican holiday Dia De Los Muertos, specifically.
Dia De Los Muertos or Day of The Dead is a religious/paganistic ceremony beginning more than 3,000 years ago with the Aztec ancients.
Many people mistakenly understand it as an extension of Halloween, although it is celebrated on November 2nd and is not actually related to the mockery of Halloween costumes and revelry, rather Dia De Los Muertos is a ritual remembrance of those who have died.
The decorative alters, full of candy skulls, flowers, incense, candles, and photos are meant to honor and respect the dead through remembering their life, it is a day to acknowledge death through living.
“We must remember them”, say the elders about the Dead. “They want us, they love us. See how that flame danced high before it died? It is the Dead, letting us know we are not to forget them. Look over there—that glass just tipped over. No one of the Living touched it. It is how the Dead speak to us.”
It is not sad a sad day, rather Dia De Los Muertos is a celebratory day when the souls of lost loved ones are welcomed back to the world of the living, but no tears are shed. The ancients insist that “the path back to the living must not be made slippery with tears.”
I realize this all sounds bit odd to many Americans, but Mexicans (and Mexican-Americans) believe that we all carry DEATH with us, everyday…
We ALL have a skeleton.
Hence all of the dressing as skeletons and skulls that you see in the Latin community…the skeletons on Dia Des Los Muertos literally dance with life!
To Mexicans…our skeleton is our link with death which we carry with us throughout life. It is a stark symbolization the cycle of life.
Which is why…I chose my Calaveras de Azúcar (sugar skull) to be inked on my back (SEE LINK HERE). I wanted to make real the feeling I struggled with, I felt as if I was carrying my loss as a weight, on my back. It was painful…It hurt…and somehow I felt that through realizing that emotion through artistic expression, paralleling my emotional pain with with a physical (almost ritual) act…that I might grasp some relief…some acceptance and peace. I did.
As November 2nd approaches, I am struck again by the meaning and symbolism of Dia De Los Muertos…a celebration of DEATH through LIFE…and the tremendous healing impact that realization had on me…it is a dialectic I think we can all relate to…and one that somehow…makes death…and loss just a bit more…acceptable…through making it…A PART OF US ALL.
I leave you with this poem…written by a Mexican woman, translated from Spanish…please enjoy…xxx c.
Woman with Somber Gaze
Woman with a somber gaze,
Tell me, what do you see in the candles?
are the ghosts in the night
or are they flowers of the earth?
What do you treasure on your lap
illuminated and transparent,
even in the air
your silhouette appears?
Twice as much the pain,
twice as much the loss,
the flowers have become the rivers
and the fragrance cries out.
Pondering at night,
vigil of the imagination,
bundle of lights and echoes,
stay up late during the wake…
Woman with a tender gaze
the flames of candle reach out;
are they mocking this moment
or are they restfully flickering out.
In your illuminated face
to those who love death
this is a golden in their sight.
For those who love life
it is a night of confusion,
the wax kisses the flowers
and the flame caresses the emotions.
(Spanish poet, 1995)
Source: Poem found in Michoacan- Through the Eyes of the Soul, Day of the Dead in Mexico