Dia di los Muertos
The only day of the year I light every candle on my altar is November 2nd, aka The Day of The Dead. I often worry this space in my home gives people the impression that I’m very religious. I’m not, but I am intrigued by faith. Regardless of how you choose to affiliate, even atheists know what its like to believe in something you can’t see or prove. You can be godless and a believer in the unknown. I have faith in people and art and the good of the world, even when I can’t see it, even when there is evidence to the contrary. Faith is faith and it all comes from the same place inside us. Both my grandmothers had altars of some kind, so did my parents. An altar isn’t about just about religion. It’s a place to light a candle and visit the dead and find faith.
Each cross is from a different country I’ve visited. I’ve got smudge sticks and voodoo candles from New Orleans and rosaries from the Vatican and prayer beads from Africa and Buddhist statues and Hindi paintings and protection masks from Indonesia and a page of the koran painted onto a wooden board by a young Moroccan boy. I’m probably using half of them wrong. People sometimes send me things when they go to a spiritual site, all sorts of faiths are represented here. I love to sit here and think about that, all those different people believing different beautiful things. It’s filled with the photos of people I have loved that have died. A few of their things, too. My grandmothers thimble. The lucky coin my grandfather carried in his wallet. My mother’s madonna statue. I don’t want to tuck these trinkets and all these people away in drawers. I want to see their faces and incorporate them into my life. All those mass cards from funerals come to live here, too. Sometimes I bring things to them. A flower on my mothers birthday. I took a rock from the driveway of Graceland to put next to my fathers picture, did it again when I went to Abbey Road. A small dragonfly pin for my friend Tim. Every night when I blow out the candles I sit there for a minute and just think of them. It’s nice to have a place that isn’t a morbid grave. Because I see them so often, in some ways, it’s like they’re still here.
I grew up thinking that we shouldn’t talk about the dead, it was too upsetting and made us contend with our own mortality. I get it- grief hurts. But we often turn so far away from the pain of death that we end up forgetting our dead to protect ourselves. In the end, I believe that this hurts worse. That is how people really die. Not when they leave the earth, but when we stop talking about them. I don’t want to do that. There is a way to remember and celebrate and love our dead without pain. I know because I have seen it and I am a living example of it every day. My father’s mother took me to my first Dia di los Muertos. It rocked my world. By then I had stopped telling people that I missed my mother or asking questions about her because it made them cry. I loved that there was a day where we didn’t turn away from mortality, a day where we ignored our grief to celebrate the people we missed, where we openly didn’t pretend we were okay and talked about them. It freed me to do the same. I went home and lit my first candle for my mother that night.
My friend’s mother died before his kids were born. Every year on her birthday he cooks his mothers favorite meal and sets her photo a place at the table and tells his kids a story about the grandmother they’ll never know. I love that. You don’t have to have a massive shrine in your house, I’m a bit of an extreme person. But I hope that you all have a quiet space, whether that be an altar or a dinner table or a place in your mind, to visit with those that you love and miss.
the wall opposite the cross wall is blank right now save for this shadow box I built to house my grandfathers war memorabilia. I’ve got plans to finish this wall with a genealogy project.
My favorite photo of Ryan. There is an adult one of him on here too, but I’ve always loved this image of him at 5, covered in puppies.
my Memere, the woman who brought me to my first day of the dead. Her photo is in a picture frame that she made and this DotD sugar skull lady reminded me of her, she was always smoking. Her favorite bird was a cardinal & she always wanted to go to Africa, so when I was there and saw this carved wooden cardinal I brought it back for her.