I’ve struggled with my faith and Catholicism a lot over the years but even as a kid I loved the celebration of All Souls Day. It’s a time when we remember the loved ones who have gone before us. I remember visiting the cemetery and leaving flowers. As an adult, when I learned of Dia De Los Muertos I was immediately intrigued. To me it seemed a wonderful celebration and enhancement of the All Souls Day that always seemed to sooth my spirit.
Last year, after doing some research, I decided to make my first ofrenda. I was nervous at first because I wanted to make sure that I celebrated with reverence and not appropriation. It’s important to me that I make it clear to you all that I’m not of Mexican heritage. Im an outsider doing my best to respectfully embrace the practice and uphold the tradition in my own home. I’m not here to teach you about it. There are other people who can do it much better than me and I encourage you to do deeper research yourself. I’m just here to share the impact that the day and building an ofrenda has on me.
I had no idea how moving the experience would be for me. I spent months researching and gathering supplies. I had to make some adjustments to some of the traditional items for various reasons. For example, I used local French bread instead of Pan De Los Muertos because baking bread isn’t my strong suit and French Bread was my MawMaw’s favorite bread. I also chose to place Jack Daniels instead of tequila on our ofrenda. Most of our family avoided tequila so it seemed the most appropriate choice to please our visiting loved ones. Researching what items to include for each person gave me the chance to talk with my living family about the past. It felt good to pick out something special to honor each person.
When November 1st arrived I spent all morning building our ofrenda. It was hard spending all day thinking about all of our loved ones that were no longer with us, but it was also balm for the spirit. The act of preparing for them as if they were here in person to visit gave me the opportunity to walk down memory lane and revisit the closeness we shared during their lives. As the sun went down and I lit the candles I cried but I also felt myself relax, and some of the pain heal just a tiny bit more. I knew then that it would become a yearly tradition in our home.
In March when the pandemic started I made sure to include marigolds in my garden because they are an important piece of the ofrenda. Their fragrance is meant to draw the spirits in. I’ve babied my marigolds for seven months now in preparation for today. For seven months as I watered and pruned in my garden I thought of my family. Some days it brought smiles and strengthened me, other days it brought tears. Each day meant healing though.
My ofrenda is a little smaller this year, mostly because the Twins are into everything, but it still means so much to me. As I sit here tonight and watch the candles burn among the flowers that I’ve worked so hard to keep alive, I send my love and prayers up in the candle smoke. Love for those that I miss so very much and prayers that I’m making them proud and that they’ll stay near to me. I know when I go to bed that I’ll rest easy with the belief that they were just a little bit closer tonight.