The Dalai Lama, when asked what surprised him most about humanity, answered “Man…. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”
When I first came to Mexico, Mexico taught me how to live. I learned to slow down, to live for each day. I learned how to celebrate each and every moment.
On Day of the Dead, I learned how to die.
“I’m the one that’s got to die when it’s time for me to die, so let me live my life the way I want to.”
― Jimi Hendrix, Jimi Hendrix – Axis: Bold as Love
On October 31, All Hallows Eve, the children make a children’s altar to invite the angelitos (spirits of dead children) to come back for a visit. November 1 is All Saints Day, and the adult spirits will come to visit. November 2 is All Souls Day, when families go to the cemetery to decorate the graves and tombs of their relatives. The three-day fiesta filled with marigolds, the flowers of the dead; muertos (the bread of the dead); sugar skulls; cardboard skeletons; tissue paper decorations; fruit and nuts; incense, and other traditional foods and decorations. ”
— Frances Ann Day, Latina and Latino Voices in Literature
Day of the Dead or Dia de los Muertos (called Dia de Muertos by the Mexicans) is a holiday where friends and families gather together to remember and pray for friends and family members that have died.
Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) is celebrated from Oct 31-November 2 because it is believed that during this time period, the gates of heaven open, and the spirits of the dead are allowed to reunite with their families.
People build beautiful altars in their homes to honor the dead, and cover the altars with marigolds (marigolds are believed to attract the souls of the dead), bright pink cock’s combs flowers, their family members favorite food and drinks, and candies such as sugared skulls and candied pumpkin.
They also visit the graves and bring flowers, favorite foods of the one who died, and possessions that the dead one left behind. In many Mexican towns, people stay all night around the graves.
They play music, and while you would expect this to be a somber event, it is filled with life and celebration.
The family members gather around the grave and tell stories of the one who died.
I wonder about those who have no one left to tell stories about them.
“Death ends a life, not a relationship.”
― Mitch Albom, Tuesdays with Morrie
“It is a curious thing, the death of a loved one. We all know that our time in this world is limited, and that eventually all of us will end up underneath some sheet, never to wake up. And yet it is always a surprise when it happens to someone we know. It is like walking up the stairs to your bedroom in the dark, and thinking there is one more stair than there is. Your foot falls down, through the air, and there is a sickly moment of dark surprise as you try and readjust the way you thought of things.”
― Lemony Snicket, Horseradish
It showed me how in the end, when it comes down to it, the thing that people remember is our stories. We are our stories. We are made up of moments.
People won’t remember if our hair was perfect, how much money we had, or if we were at our perfect weight. They will remember our presence. Did we show up when we were with the people we called our friends?
We forget how impermanent this life is. We think the ones we love will be around forever. We take each other for granted.
We stare into our phones rather than the eyes of another. We never bother to ask if the person’s whose status we follow on Facebook is really OK. We just assume, second guess. Some of us only spend time around others under the influence of a drink or a drug, rather than soberly feel what it is to be in the rawness of another. We are forgetting to be really present in this miracle of life.
In the US, we don’t have a way to honor the dead after the funeral. Is this because we really aren’t honoring life?
“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”
― Hunter S. Thompson, The Proud Highway: Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman, 1955-1967
I love this way of honoring people after they have died. I also think we need to start honoring each other while we are still alive.
Send flowers to the people you love while they are alive. Better yet, send them a letter. No, not an email. A handwritten one. On stationary. Tell them what you love about them. Your favorite memories. Tell them your stories while you are still living.
Bake them their favorite bread. Make them their favorite meal. Buy them their favorite drink. Just because. Celebrate the things of this earth. Celebrate this life. Hopefully, with lots of dancing. For one single second, forget your differences and come together in appreciation and delight. And, then live like that. Every single day.
If you’re reading this, if there’s air in your lungs on this November day, then there is still hope for you. Your story is still going. And maybe some things are true for all of us. Perhaps we all relate to pain. Perhaps we all relate to fear and loss and questions. And perhaps we all deserve to be honest, all deserve whatever help we need. Our stories are all so many things: Heavy and light. Beautiful and difficult. Hopeful and uncertain. But our stories aren’t finished yet. There is still time, for things to heal and change and grow. There is still time to be surprised. We are still going, you and I. We are stories still going.
— Jamie Tworkowski
A form of Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) is celebrated in many locations all over the Catholic world. However, the biggest celebrations are usually held in Central and Southern Mexico. Patzcuaro in Michocan has one of the biggest celebrations. I have celebrated in Oaxaca in the past, and in San Miguel de Allende where all the above photos were taken.
“Death has become an imposition on the human race and is no longer acceptable.” -Alan Harrington, ‘The Immortalist’
A little bonus: Something for you to think about.