My life, inseparably intertwined with my grieving process, took me on a journey of experiential healing through in Mexico. A few months after my move to Mexico City in 2009, I experienced Dia de los Muertos (In English: The Day of the Dead or All Saints Day). Hypnotized by the colors, smells, and excitement of the celebration, I watched families cry, dance, sing, and indulge in food and drink. I sat on the side lines and reflected on the beautiful outward expressions of grief, remembrance, and love taking place.
Although honoring the dead for Dia de los Muertos occurs in many parts of the world, the tradition was not a part of my upbringing or healing process until my life collided with it. However, the ability of family members to come together to dance, eat, play music, and share stories of the deceased with younger family members resonated deeply. As we weave our stories, we pick up moments and experiences that resonate deeply and carry them with us. Dia de los Muertos is a reminder of the profound joys in healing and celebrating as a community. In 2009, I tentatively created my first altar, hesitant to display my father’s photo, buy the traditional orange flowers in the outdoor Mercado Medellin in Mexico City, and nervously adapt the celebration to my life.
As a revisit emails from the first few days of November 2009, I can still feel my excitement at finding a celebration that resonated so deeply and my near desperate attempts to relay this to my friends and family. Exclamation marks punctuate every sentence. My first experience witnessing the celebration confirmed my desire to grieve and remember out loud. Here, in San Miguel de Allende, four hours north of Mexico City, the celebration was a natural part of the process of life and death.
I attempted to send photos of my timidly constructed altar, grave yards brimming with flowers and candy shaped to look like skulls, traditional dancers, children laughing, family members hugging through tearful smiles, and everything else I could capture through my camera lens. As if saying, “I moved, I am healing, look – other people are healing and remembering. This is me healing out loud.” I realize most of my healing has been done verbally, while sharing moments and experiences on this most basic human level across Mexico, Honduras, Peru, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda…a list that will hopefully grow as my quest to understand how healing and life are braided together continues.
This year, as I have for the past three years, I created my altar with joy, remembering my father and grandmother and smiling as I remember my father’s cat who left us to join him earlier this year. While my roommate and I strung up colored paper, placed candles, and organized the Katrinas and photographs, I shared stories about my dad’s love of Mexican food. I’m not sure I actually believe that spirits of the dead return to indulge in the food left by their loved ones; however, the holiday brings my father to the front of mind and helps me take another step forward.
Photos of my first Dia de los Muertos experiences in San Miguel de Allende and Mexico City, Mexico.