My mother raised my brothers and I to be very aware and in touch with death. From a very young age, she would take us to the funerals of people we knew who had passed away. I once overheard her say to someone who asked why she had brought us, that death was as natural as life, and that we needed to be exposed to it, in order to understand that. She also worked closely with death herself. For a few years, when I was just a little girl, she was a forensic pathologist. Later on, she started to work in palliative medicine, merging her medical knowledge with her spiritual, to help people move on to "the other side" with as little pain as possible.
So to me, death has always been just that, a part of life. That is not to say that when I have lost loved ones I haven't been sad. I understand that mourning is an important process in order to let go. However, I agree with the culture of the Day of the Dead, in that we need to celebrate the lives, the memory, and the love of those who have passed, instead of lingering in the sadness of having lost them.
I have been wanting to make this celebration a tradition in mine and my husband's lives for a few years now, but between moving around and not having set schedules, time has gone by without doing so.
Last year that began to change. My friend Nichol's birthday is on that day. A friend of hers had told her how wonderful the parade that takes place in the Mission District in San Francisco for this day is, so she decided this is what she wanted to do for her birthday. I luckily had the night off, so I painted my face and dressed up, got my day of the dead figurine maraca, and met up with my friend where the parade starts at. We paraded from beginning to end, dancing, singing, chanting, laughing. The energy was spectacular! People from all walks of life and all ages were gathered in celebration. There were costumes, there were candles, there were flowers, there were bands and dancers, like a walking "Cirque du Soleil" with regular people as the performers. It was fantastic!
Unfortunately, this year, I had to work. But I decided that not being able to be a part of the parade did not mean I couldn't celebrate this day and our dead.
So before leaving the house in the morning, I set the table with a little altar for our loved ones that have moved on. I got pictures of them, and arranged them in a pretty fashion with some fresh Calendulas, the few dead of the dead figurines I own, and and apple from my friend's yard as an offering.
When we got home from work, I dressed up (although I decided to skip the face painting this time after a long day of cooking) , and Jason and I had dinner at the table, and cheered with beer to our loved ones who are no longer with us.
We talked about them, we laughed at the memories, and we enjoyed a delicious meal, in honor of all of those we love who are dead.
As the souvenir from one of their funeral states: " Just because I am out of sight, I shouldn't be out of your thoughts.