(Above) A traditional cemetery celebration on Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead).
This time of year reminds me of just how important magic is. While life holds it's own magic, death certainly holds an even more inexplicable magic all it's own. Not in the sense of tricks and jokes, but in the sense of wonder and possibility. Now, I know not everyone cares as much about Halloween as I do, but it has always held a special place in my heart. It’s a time of year when society accepts both kids and adults acting like children: decorating our houses with creepy spider webs and skeletons, dressing up in silly costumes, carving pumpkins with fun or scary faces. It helps all of us, should we partake, to be invigorated with a sense of wonder and magic... something we so easily forget in our day to day lives. And I find it no coincidence that the holiday that does this the most for so many, is so heavily focused on death.
It’s also a time of year when I feel closest to my mother and my other loved ones that have died. She loved the fall. That first cold front that came in each year invigorated her, and though I can’t remember much from the 9 years I had her, I do remember the essence of that feeling. I remember the feeling of her excitement. I remember a feeling of magic and warmth and creativity and possibility.
My mother’s death day happens to be the day before Halloween. And my dad, who is also passed, has his birthday the 29th, the day before that. And the third, Drew, loved Halloween as much as I. So there have always been personal losses that connect this time to death for me in a big way. In an odd way, it is wonderful, because it feels like so many others are celebrating their own loved ones around this time with their own customs such as All Soul’s Day and Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), and it has given me new ways to celebrate my dead.
If you haven’t heard of Dia de los Muertos or don't know much about it, I urge you to read about it here. I’ve grown up seeing this beautiful Mexican tradition of honoring the dead in South Texas, seeing the sugar skulls and colorful celebration of souls is something that has always been around and something I’ve always loved to see, though we never did anything like this in our house. After Drew died, his mom and I, neither of us of Mexican descent mind you, took a trip to the Mexican market in nearby San Antonio, and bought a whole collection of colorful items to celebrate him and our love for him. It was wonderful to see how inclusive everyone was to those like us, who were not born into such traditions.
We came home with colorful skeletons, bright and glittery sugar skulls, Mexican streamers and the like. And there in our fairly traditional ranch house, we set up our Ofrenda, our altar to celebrate the dead. It was a beautiful ritual… and the thing I remember loving most about it was that we felt unafraid to acknowledge our joy and our love and our honor for someone we had lost. We put our altar front and center on the fireplace mantel, unafraid of what anyone else thought of it when they came to visit. That feeling of showing your appreciation so outwardly, without fear of what others think, was beautiful. I think it helped us both feel the magic of connecting to his soul.
(Above) A traditional Mexican "Ofrenda" or altar honoring the dead.
Unlike other times of the year, when I so often feel like I have to hide my love and celebration for the ones in my life who have died, this time of year seems to give me permission to put it out there. The rituals that have been created in the hispanic culture and other cultures, although not my own, have helped give me permission to create something to honor my own dead. What’s more, Dia de los Muertos focuses on the joy of loving those souls more than the pain of losing them… which I find so beautiful. In many areas of the country, families who celebrate this day can be found out at the cemetery filling grave sites with gorgeous colorful flowers in oranges and reds, candles and sugar skulls and many other adornments. They come with food offerings, breads and cakes, for the dead. They bring food to eat themselves as well… there is eating, and dancing, and music, and joyful celebration. It is truly unlike anything you see from most of the western world. They even set up public altars where people can bring photos, flowers, breads, and other offerings and everyone can celebrate in unison. There are festivals, and dancing, and beautiful performances. I’ve experienced a few of these back in my hometown of Corpus Christi, Tx, where they have an annual Day of the Dead festival in October even. It is a time not only to celebrate, but to simply FEEL openly the love for those who have died.
(Above) Cemeteries adorned with flowers and offerings in preparation for Dia de los Muertos.
This custom brings me back to the idea of magic. The idea of infusing our lives with wonder and possibility… even in grief. What is life, after all, without wonder and a sense of curiosity about what is possible? Maybe our dead really do connect with us all the time. What if they know everything that goes on here still? And they really do hang out and celebrate love with us on this one special day a year? Maybe that whole energy between us all never ends at all… instead we must search out new ways to connect to that energy. A new language with which to share our love for each other. New rituals.
Let’s face it, we can’t sit on the couch and watch our favorite shows together with them like we used to. We can’t go to amusement parks or for walks on the beach or to a museum together. At least, not like we did before. But I very much believe our dead stay with us always. And that the energy flow between us never ever dies. In that way, we can still have a relationship to them by focusing on that energy, and taking the time to celebrate that energy.
I’ve been so busy and gone through so much change in the past year in my life, that it’s been hard to focus on those soul connections. It happens, as you step more fully into life and you begin to spend less time grieving… your focus shifts a bit. As a result, I have felt it… I have felt the disconnection from the souls of my loved ones. It’s a subtle shift, a flatness, or a feeling that some of my own depth has left me. That’s how I know, that this stuff, this sort of magic, must be real. This sort of unexplainable connection, soul to soul, must exist.
Halloween’s approach has become my reminder that is it time I begin to believe in magic again. It’s time to begin investing myself into those soul connections once more, and invigorating myself with the energy of the love we still share. They bring me comfort, they bring me creative energy, they bring an added depth and meaning to my daily life. This is my reminder that I have been neglecting to spend time celebrating and connecting to the souls of my loved ones, and that it’s time to connect again to the magic of death.