While visiting Mexico City on their Halloween and Day of the Dead, a Mexican family invited me to go with them to Xochimilco to the festival of the Dia de los Muertos. Masses of people squeezed through the narrow streets past food stands and vendors of articles related to the Day of the Dead. The cemetery across the street was lit up with candles that families had placed on the graves of their beloved departed, along with food and the special bread prepared for that sacred day. Having grown up in Wisconsin, I had no idea that the Day of the Dead festival in Mexico was so huge. I confessed my ignorance of the importance of their indigenous beliefs that the souls of the dead come back for a visit on the winter solstice, and Mexicans go to the gravesites to visit them.
The Mayans clean the graves, bring food for the dead, and at night they have a candle-light procession to the cemetery where they pray for the souls, thanking them for their lives, asking forgiveness for any wrongs and begging them to depart in peace.
The Day of the Dead and All Saints Day are celebrated around the world as days of remembrance for the beloved departed. That day in Mexico informed me that my cultural tradition tended to ignore the importance of remembrance. It was only after years of participating in grief support groups that I began to appreciate the value of cultural events around the world that encourage people to remember the loved ones they lost. Central to the Mexican Day of the Dead is the creation in each home of an offering table that displays photos and favorite articles and food to remember the one(s) who died.
In our grief support groups and our bereavement education workshops, we teach the importance of remembering the loved ones who died. In our otherwise “death-denying culture” there is a resurgence of creative ways to remember in addition to the traditional visit to the cemetery. These days, mourners are remembering and honoring their loved ones by tree planting, butterfly gardens, memorial gardens, star naming, memorial services, charity gifts, quilts, scrapbooks, photo albums, poetry, songs, good-bye letters, and journaling. Through these and other creative ways of remembrance, we keep our loved ones alive through memory.
Personally, I keep alive the memory of my departed loved ones through my grief support mission: www.globalgriefsupport.org, and currently, I’m looking forward to a workshop later this month in Guatemala. Remember us in your prayers.
The scripture text from the Wisdom of Solomon gives us a clue.
But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God,
and no torment will ever touch them.
In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died,
And their departure was thought to be a disaster,
And their going from us to be their destruction;
But they are at peace.