I think death can be beautiful if we allow ourselves to fully grieve. When we find that acceptance, we are reunited with our loved ones again. This is what Dia De Los Muertos means to me. No, it’s not a spooky holiday. And no, it’s not connected to Halloween. Dia De Los Muertos is a welcoming back to our deceased loved ones, a continuation of the celebration of their life.
Originating from Mexico, Dia De Los Muertos, translated to “Day of the Dead” is celebrated between November 1st to the 2nd, and as best stated by History, is the border of the spirit world and the real world, dissolving.
Growing up, I was always taught by my mother that when someone passes; it doesn’t mean they have left our life indefinitely. Rather they are continuing to take care of us from a distance, and in a much more beautiful world than where we are right now. This doesn’t necessarily have to mean heaven. At least it didn’t for me; for me it was a world full of culture, of color, and of celebration. Regardless of what it means to who and what, I’ve found comfort in that belief, and Dia De Los Metros has brought me comfort about mortality. It’s vibrant. It’s honoring, and beautiful.
It’s nearly been a year since my family dog of 17 years passed away. Chiquiz (pronounced chee-keys), was a tiny but mighty force that guarded the Perez residency and was my companion growing up since I was only five years old. A year: 12 months and 24 hours of each day where I’ve allowed myself to grieve. In the coming days, I now prepare to celebrate the life of my childhood pet as Dia De Los Muertos approaches. And yes! This celebration is applicable to our furry friends and family.
So, how exactly is celebration found in death? How does one prepare for loved ones to come and reunite within this two day holiday? This is prepared through “ofrendas”; an altar full of offerings that is placed in one’s homes or on the grave of the deceased. These ofrendas are prepared with the deceased’s pieces of clothing, possessions left behind, their favorite dishes and snacks. Anything that reminds you of them, you place on the offrenda as an offering and reminder that you are continuing to keep them alive in this world.
This is surrounded by candles, photos of your loved one, calaveras (sugar skulls), and la flor de cempasúchil. This can be seen as a pathway for our loved ones to follow back home, and provides them with necessities for their journey while also honoring their time from life to death. For Chiquiz, I’ve provided all the essentials she needs on her trip back home!
I’ve set and surrounded her with all her favorite snacks, and the ones we’d munch on together. From peanut butter that my sister would share with her on PB & J sandwiches, to the tortilla that my mother would rip into tiny pieces for her while she prepared dinner in the kitchen with Chiquiz, down to the Doritos that my father would share with her on the couch as they woke up from a nap together. As for myself, I set out her favorite dog treat twists that she’d chew on as we both sunbathed on summer days, and popcorn that we’d sneak in at 2 AM when she’d stay up late with me to finish up midterms and finals. This always led to her getting her little body stuck in the bag as she licked off every seam of butter.
For momentos, I’ve set out clothing and toys that Chiquiz wore and played with as she grew up. She had a particular taste for her chew toys and fashion, I’m certain she’ll arrive in style on her way back home. Setting this ofrenda for my furry friend and family made me laugh, it made me cry. It made me appreciate the time I had to grow up with her.
I long for the days I can come home and see her tiny eye peak around the corner of my desk as I hovered over my coursework. But as I set every piece of food, clothing, candle, and flower; I was in awe of the human experience my Mexican heritage has provided with me. Death is natural, and the stages of grief and emotions that come along with it are natural as well. It’s quite literally part of life from beginning to end, and Dia De Los Muertos and offrendas allow for the story of their life to be honored and illuminated between these two worlds. We’re not worlds apart, but rather unite in leading one another in these journeys of life and death.
I’m awaiting the arrival of Chiquiz from November 1st to the 2nd. My family and I will be celebrating her welcome back home with some Pan de Muerto (Day of the Dead Bread), in which I will be accidentally dropping some crumbs for her to clean up, as we reminisce on the life Chiquiz lived and shared with us, A life that we continue to honor every single day.