Sunday, October 31, 2010

Dia de los Muertos

Ever since living in Colorado, I've been fascinated by Dia de los Muertos, which seems like a much healthier way to ritualize death at this time of year than the usual Halloween celebration. 

This is the first year, though, that I've been motivated to actually put together an altar.  Given my dad's death last November, and the fact that next Saturday we'll be going to Grantsville, WV, for a memorial service as his ashes are finally laid to rest in the cemetery there, this seemed like the year to construct one.

Mine isn't traditional, but then, I'm a gringa and a lapsed Protestant borrowing this ritual (and I hope it's borrowing, and not co-opting or abusing).  On the other hand, if the Smithsonian can have a Dia de los Muertos Festival in Second Life, I guess "traditional" is a target that's moving even faster than I'd imagined.

There are a few traditional elements, though, namely the sugar skull, which I bought last year at, of all places, the Appalachian Gallery a few blocks away.   Ironically (or fittingly), I bought it the weekend that my parents were visiting, when my dad first started having symptoms from his brain tumor.

The beautiful hanging behind the altar is a piece created by Rita Flores de Wallace, a Mexican-American folk artist from Denver who was a good friend of the Greeley museum's folklorist, Georgia Wier.  This is the first time I've actually hung it up since we got it just before moving back east.  I wish you could see the whole thing--the bottom half is obscured by the altar.  But it is whimsical and colorful and full of amazing detail.

So, on this Day of the Dead, I honor and remember my dad, especially (and hope his spirit enjoys those wasabi peanuts and red-pepper flakes, and plays his harmonica and pitch pipe).

But there are also photos and mementos here of others who are on my mind today and often:  my late brother-in-law Terry (some garlic there for him); Tom's grad-school advisor, Nick Howe;  and of course, my friend Jay.  On the other side are photos and tributes to our old cat Lucy and to my sister's dear old dog Cecil.

None of them forgotten on this holiday, or ever.


Pam said...

Funny how holidays can elicit so much emotion. I spent most of the morning cleaning my bedroom and decided that it was finally time to take sweet old Cecil out to the woods by the river and scatter his ashes. It was a beautiful fall day just the kind that he’d love to go out and get all muddy wading in the river or chasing the deer in the back field.
As you know, Terry has had an altar of sorts in the basement on his much used workbench since he died (unbelievably) almost four years ago. He is still there in the Penton gas tank along with his smoked oysters, jar of tamales, toy motorcycles, pictures in his hats. Gone long ago are the bottle of scotch which was mostly consumed by his friend, Don, who is now also gone. I don’t visit it as much as I used to but still stop bye to say hello everytime I am in the basement for a tool or something in the freezer. I do still have a chair sitting in front of it and spent time there occasionally to reflect on that life that is gone and try to find my way in my new life since he’s been gone. Somedays, It seems especially hard to not feel as though emotionally my life ended when Terry died. “Til death do you part” is crap…. I feel as connected to him now as I did four years ago. Even death can’t kill love. That’s why it’s so hard to move on.

Malayna said...

I've just caught up with your blog, Rosemary, and I'm so glad I did. I think you're right, this seems like a very healthy way to mourn. It seems like your dad was a pretty fantastic guy.

Christy said...

Feeling very moved by this post and of course Pam's response. Say what you will about the impersonality of the web. You defy that repeatedly, Rose, and I thank you for that.

Rosemary said...

Thanks, everybody (and Malayna: welcome!). What I like about Dia de los Muertos is that it emphasizes the continuity between life and death, and not just the horror of death (as most Halloween celebrations do). As your comments so poignantly show, Pam, these people are never truly "gone" from our lives, nor would we want them to be.