Thursday, November 8, 2018

Remembering with Celebration

I lost my mother a few years ago. It wasn't sudden. She'd been sick for a while, but it was devastating nonetheless  and I think of her every day.  So much so that I often avoid even talking about her because of the immediate ache in my throat.

This year, her birthday fell on Dia de los Muertos and I thought that maybe going to the festival with my family would help me to think of her in a different light. Not one of loss or sadness, but with happiness and hope. I hadn't celebrated this way since I was a very young child and visiting my Nana (grandma) in Texas.

The idea came to me because I've been working on a new series and the main character is Mexican like me. She works with her entire family, cousins and all, on a daily basis. So all of the craziness, fighting, eating and celebrating  is very personal to me. It is what I grew up with and what I reach back to for comfort. 

My community is in southern California and so there is a huge Dia de los Muertos festival near me. There are processions with people dressed as Aztec warriors or as the calacas and calaveras (skeletons and skulls) dressed in formal wear, as well as various depictions of death.  All of it done in festive bright colors with flowers and smiles. 

Ofrenda note I left for my mother.
Lost loved ones are depicted as happy, dancing, and having fun. Often we make and eat their favorite meals, listen to their favorite songs, and talk about happy memories with each other as we remember those we lost.
My mother loved dancing cumbias or Columbian dances. So I was determined to get out on the dance floor and dance with my family. We had a blast.
The real emotional part was in the park. Away from the dancing, food, music, and laughter there is a path that leads into a dark park lit by hundreds of candles on tables.

Traditionally people will set out 'ofrendas' or offerings which are photographs, favorite objects, foods, and drink that remind them of those they lost. Some of the tables were amazing with strung lights, handmade tissue flowers, cutout banners, painted sugar skulls or candies, etc.

I do not do an altar or offerings. Its not part of my own family's tradition. But I did leave a note to my mother on the community offering table. I told her that I miss her and that we are all doing well.

This year I think that celebrating my mother's life and thinking about her surrounded by family and laughter was really what I needed. I came away from it all with a smile on my face and great times to remember with my own children.

I want to incorporate more of my family's traditions and customs into my writing.  I hope that it gives others a nudge to explore their own heritage with their family.

I think this will be a new family tradition for us.