I’m definitely not an expert on Día de los Muertos. But I love everything I know about the traditions and meaning around it.
El Día de los Muertos originated as an Aztec harvest festival, a month-long party to honor and thank the ancestors. Embracing death as an essential component of the vibrancy and richness of life. Acknowledging that what we reap and enjoy today is the culmination of everyone and everything that has came before. Later, as the holiday got hybridized with the Roman Catholic All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day, the celebration retained its unique symbolism and carnivalesque atmosphere. Not somber and funereal, but colorful and jubilant. With dancing skeletons, garlands of marigolds, music, parades, and sweets.
It is a time to recognize that the veil between life and death can be very thin, that those who have passed on can be with us still. We alive on the planet right now can connect intentionally with our departed loved ones — with all that they ever were, and are. And at the same time, we can practice knowing ourselves as part of this never-ending wholeness of Life.
A friend and I were talking this week about recent losses in her life, the unfolding process of her mourning. I shared a little about my own experience. And I realized that my grief over time has been a journey of transforming absence into presence. What first felt like dead emptiness where my loved ones used to be gradually has become the living space in which they ever will abide.
For quite a while after the death of my father, music was a tender wound, reminding me that he was no longer here to sing it. Bouquets of flowers made me ache because he was no longer here to arrange them. Now, though, thirteen years later, music and flowers are two ways that I feel a direct and immediate connection to my Dad. After Mom’s death, it was baking that did it — I’d sob into my bread dough as I kneaded it, missing her. Now, when I bake she is absolutely present. Five years after her passing, Mom and I get to be together every time I make a pie.
Perhaps it’s just in my heart — that alone would be something precious and real. Truly, though, I think it’s a lot more than that. In some way I can’t understand or express, I believe it’s an actual communion. With Mom and Dad. With my own soul. With Life Itself.
It’s something about integrating death into life’s continuum, rather than dreading it as life’s opposite. Letting activities and memories and personalities and legacies help us to transcend time and space so the entirety of existence can be fully present, now.
Musician and composer John Hartford noted, “The whole universe is based on rhythms. Everything happens in circles, in spirals.”
What I love about circles is that they signify both movement and wholeness, both change and permanence. A circle can represent a cycle, including all beginnings and endings and beginnings — of seasons, of years, of lifetimes. It’s also perpetually complete. A circle is forever becoming. And, at the same time, it’s already always fully being.
I like to think about each life as a circle, whole and complete in and of itself. Our lives together are circles intersecting and overlapping in every direction, in multiple dimensions. Every moment of connection, each interaction, every way we touch each other creates additional cycles and ripples and eddies — spiraling outward as our own becoming, and each other’s, and the becoming of the entire blooming universe.
That’s what we’re celebrating this Sunday, October 29, 10:00am at Maple Street Dance Space. We’re a tad early for Día de los Muertos (November 1 and 2), but since we’re transcending time and space, that won’t matter.
Please bring photos and mementos of your departed loved ones for a community ofrenda altar. We’ll have a sweet ritual to thank and honor them. With special musical guests, Las Flores del Valle. I can’t wait to be with you. XO, Drew
©2023 Drew Groves