One of the difficulties that I’ve had since my 86-year-old father moved in with me is finding a way to appropriately commemorate my mother’s death. Mom had Alzheimer’s disease, so in many ways the person that Dad and I knew died long before her actual physical death.
Since her passing, Dad and I quietly mark Mom’s birthday and the day that she died. However, there’s a large hole in our recollections of Mom because we primarily remember her during her time with Alzheimer’s. Therefore, I’ve become increasingly interested in the Day of the Dead holiday, also known as Dia de los Muertos.
Traditional day of remembrance
The National Museum of Funeral History describes the Day of the Dead as a religious celebration among Meso-American cultures from October 31 (Halloween) through November 2 (All Souls’ Day), a period when the dead are believed to return to visit loved ones who are still alive. As part of this ritual, people create altars with photos of the deceased, candles, incense, flowers and even offerings of foods the person liked. Some Catholic churches also set up special displays where parishioners can share photos of loved ones.
To learn more, I asked my friend, Anna, about her childhood memories. In addition to observing Dia de los Muertos, her family also attended church services to celebrate November 1 (All Saints’ Day) and November 2 (All Souls’ Day). Her family celebrated the Day of the Dead because they are Mexican-Americans, she explained, and most Latino families observe this holiday with some variations.
“We lived in Brownsville, Texas,” Anna reminisced, “which is a border town or ‘frontera’ into Mexico. That facilitated going into Matamoros and buying an abundant amount of gladiolas. I still see this flower and consider it the flower of the dead. We bought enough flowers for the gravestones of grandmothers, aunts, uncles, cousins and maybe even a good friend who had gone on to his eternal home.”
Even though I’m not Hispanic or Catholic, I plan to mark the Day of the Dead by creating an altar with Mom’s photo and items from her life, like jewelry and travel pictures. Hopefully, this ritual can reconnect Dad and me to Mom’s life before Alzheimer’s struck and, in turn, help us create our own memories.
Tags: Caregiving, Death