Who's Afraid of The Day of the Dead?
I typically don’t blog about things that are TOO personal to me. I mean, this is the World Wide Web after all. I’m just extra careful about some things. But today, I can’t help myself. There is something strange and beautiful about throwing down a Diet Coke and munching on Doritos at a cemetery ON SOMEONE'S PLOT. I want to tell you about the day I did just that.
I have lost some critical people in my life: relatives to whom I was very close and some friends who died WAY "before their time." I am just thinking of a handful here, from the first grief to a killer grief -- an elementary school friend who had a rare disease ... my Nana’s next door neighbour who was there for as long as I can remember and whose son is my oldest friend ... a close relative, who died soon after her husband ... a fantastic friend whose widow ended up being my roommate for a while ... these were all dear people to me, and probably some of the first time I dealt with real grief from those losses. And then ... there is my mother.
They are ALL at peace. I know that. Blah, blah, blah. Trite statements can’t even brush the surface of the pain loved ones feel, so I avoid also saying them to myself in those times. I mean, don't try to tell anyone anything like that really, unless you have permission because you TRULY get it. Just BE there and hug them and feed them, but it is important to not to just say stuff unless you really get it. Got it? Okay.
Okay, some of the losses I mentioned were people in pain and “ready to go.” In that, I take comfort. But ... some did not. And life is life, right? As you get older, people you love will die. That is something one cannot avoid. People hurt, they grieve, and life goes on. It shouldn’t, right? The planet should stop revolving. It certainly feels like it does when life and death intersect. We are just moving along, enjoying our busy selves and --------]. I hate it. You hate it. But there are not many who have dealt with the kind of grief my husband has.
There are those who die young. It isn’t fair, but it happens. You hate to think about the possibility that someone young and healthy could go at any moment. You can deal with that another day. You know dear friends who are dealing with it at this very second, and you only wish I had the right things to say.
I remember a day some years back a day that marked the 10th year since Susan Edgin left this world to be with Jesus. My husband, whose life she touched deeply, had often commemorated her life and the tragic loss in one way or another. I remember the first time in several years he was able to visit the plot as we found ourselves living somewhat near the memorial and it was more comfortable for him to attend. But that year, he was in Honduras. So, Robbie and I met at the local cemetery to celebrate Susan's life.
I brought purple pansies to plant in front of her stone. Robbie brought Doritos and two Diet Cokes. Weird, huh? Nope. According to Rob, these treats were Susan’s drug of choice as she relaxed in the evening, told stories, or, well, as reported by Robbie, anything was an excuse for those vices. We left the bag and one can, so anyone who visits there soon and saw our remnants of celebration hidden in the hanging basket by the nearest tree, they are NOT trash! We left them there for Susan, thank you, and Robbie wouldn’t think she’d like it if you took our gifts away.
It was a good day. And it is that personal kind of memorial that is celebrated AS A HOLIDAY in loads of places! The Day of The Dead, a holy day celebrated in many Spanish-speaking countries (including parts of the U.S.) has its roots in Mexico. From October 31 - November 2, families genuinely CELEBRATE the LIFE of their ancestors or anyone who has passed. I believe the origins of this celebration observed at a different time during the year (and I think it lasted for MONTHS), but the U.S. obsession with Halloween inspired a more positive take on death observed around the same time.
There are some beautiful traditions connected with this holiday including the building of private altars called ofrendas, honoring the deceased using calaveras, aztec marigolds, and the favorite foods and beverages of the departed, and visiting graves with these as gifts. Visitors also leave possessions of the deceased at the graves. Many also paint their faces as skeletons and honor the deceased by dressing like they would have ... but in their skeletal costumes and sometimes eating and leaving their favourite foods at the graves. This is NOT heebie-jeebie-creeper type holiday; it is actually ABOUT LIFE and there are so many wonderful celebrations at this time. I invite you to Google that. Some don't agree with that and I get it, but it's because of what WE turned it into. But I digress. So, anyway ...
The day that Susan passed meant something for many dear friends of hers and that particular year, Rob and I saw that each one of them left something behind. Several must have passed through there, in fact, I think we barely missed someone who had put a beautiful white lily/rose arrangement in between the time I first found the plot and when I found Robbie. My husband even made it all the way from Honduras as he happened to make a call to my cell from his satellite phone at the very moment I was planting pansies. He did not have the foreknowledge that we were there; I am still so glad that phone call happened.
Some cultures make a TRADITION out of grave-hopping, and I kind of love it. Who's afraid of the Day of the Dead? Well ...
We can tell you with complete confidence—we have the Master’s word on it—that when the Master comes again to get us, those of us who are still alive will not get a jump on the dead and leave them behind. In actual fact, they’ll be ahead of us. The Master himself will give the command. Archangel thunder! God’s trumpet blast! He’ll come down from heaven and the dead in Christ will rise—they’ll go first. Then the rest of us who are still alive at the time will be caught up with them into the clouds to meet the Master. Oh, we’ll be walking on air! And then there will be one huge family reunion with the Master. So reassure one another with these words.
1 Thessalonians 4: 17-18,
I am so looking forward to that family reunion, aren't you?
I enjoyed our own little "Dia de Muertos" evening so much. I enjoyed hearing stories from Robbie about silly string and practical jokes and laughter and friendship. I enjoyed listening to one of Susan’s very best friends speak of her in the present tense many years after she passed.
No, nothing is enjoyable about death. It embodies everything wrong with the fallen world in which we live. But we didn’t remember her death that day; we celebrated life. You have heard great memorials before, but to celebrate that apart from a funeral is uncommon. Susan Edgin’s was quite a life to celebrate. That day we we toasted you, Susan, with your favourite vices. I hope your pantry in heaven’s mansion overflows with Diet Coke and Doritos and may your garden be loaded with purple flowers. This day is generally celebrated with family ... and that you were, sister. That you were to many.
Today I’m thinking of Susan and Mollie and George and Michael and Ola and their beautiful families. I am, today, thinking of my mother. Today I will rejoice in their lives. Today, I will read my laugh-out-loud list (everyone should have one!) and remind myself of the life God gave me. I will be thankful that I knew them all, people that never met each other in life. Oh, I will cry. Shoot, I’m crying now.
But today, I will remember. And I will find a smile. Truly beautiful people have passed. And I will remember them forever. What is written on Susan's memorial is evergreen, as was her spirit:
A thing of beauty is a joy forever. -Ralph Waldo Emerson
Forever Joys. THOSE are things people celebrate on El Día de los Muertos as we all should every day, really. Loved ones, you are truly missed, but ... WE CELEBRATE YOU! Thank you for what you meant to us.
Today also happens to be my mom's birthday. She used to hate that, but I think it is appropriate now. A holiday that is a wonderful TRIBUTE (nothing macabre) to celebrate the lives of loved ones and celebrate how much they meant to us. I am celebrating my mother right now. I love you, mom! I always will.
How about you? You may not practice a tombstone celebration as Rob and I did or like many do around this time of year. Of course, I don't always. But ... there is a reason I keep some special memories in a box, earthly items that merely represent a heavenly relationship.
As of last December, both my parents' ashes are with us and not in a cemetery, but we will still celebrate mom's LIFE today, her birthday, and the heart and soul she put into teaching children about Jesus -- her curriculum is now Sleuth for the Truth.
Maybe I'll I'll grab some peanuts, put them in a Pepsi and put it on her beautiful box (if you knew my mom, I hope you're giggling about Pepsi Peanuts right now).
Maybe I'll bring along a Diet Coke she can pass to Susan up in glory and they can laugh with us.
And maybe, very possibly, I'll remember that today, it is LIFE that is celebrated, NOT DEATH. That's what this holiday is really all about.
¡Feliz Día de Muertos!
How do YOU celebrate the lives of loved ones passed?