Days of the Dead

Way back, several thousand years ago, there was a civilization in Mexico we know mostly as Aztecs and Toltecs.  To their way of thinking, death was just another phase on the continuum of life and it was disrespectful to mourn the dead.  The dead were still part of the community, their spirits kept alive in the memories of their families and it was on Dia de los Muertos that they temporarily returned to earth.

The tradition survived all these years and has morphed into a 3-day festival in Mexico. I saw pictures of the colorful altars in the cemeteries, adorned with marigolds and family pictures. The parades and celebrations seemed like mardi gras to me, only with a theme of skulls and skeletons.

It wasn’t until I watched the Disney movie “Coco” that I really sat up and listened.

Brief synopsis of the movie Coco, blatantly copied from IMDB:  Aspiring musician Miguel, confronted with his family’s ancestral ban on music, enters the Land of the Dead to find his great-great-grandfather, a legendary singer.

According to the movie, you can’t cross back over to earth—you can never again see your loved ones–if you are forgotten. When you are completely forgotten you finally dissolve, disappear, die.  Miguel’s great-great-grandmother tore his great-great-grandfather’s face out of the picture, so he was nearly forgotten, and fading quickly.  Miguel’s trip to the Land of the Dead is filled with music and lush with colors.  There is a scary part and the ending made me cry, but the music made it happy-cry.  (by the way, Coco is his great-grandmother)  (watch the movie)

So, maybe it’s all true.  Maybe there is a time when the veil between the living and the dead thins out and our ancestors are able to visit with us.

I know I’m full of dead people right now, thanks to my genealogy project.  I am lucky enough to remember 2 great-grandmothers who lived until I was 18.  What do you really know about your great-grandmother, though?  I listened to the stories and tried to ask questions when I realized there soon would be no one to ask.  Family histories are notoriously unreliable, if they exist at all,  and I’m finding more questions than I am answers. I stare at the fading pictures of their young faces and wonder.  The census, records of birth, death, marriage, baptism are an outline, but I want to color it in with a flesh and blood human that Lived a Life worth remembering.

The catholic church co-opted the Days of the Dead, turning them into All Saints Day, when you pray for the honest-to-god-saints-in-heaven (like they need it) and All Souls Day, when you pay-to-pray for the rest of the church people who are in purgatory.  The rest of the dead are in hell.   What a bunch of killjoys…

I much prefer to celebrate our Ancestors, showing respect for their lives, and welcoming them with Peace, Love, Food, and lots of Flowers when the veil thins.  I like to think of them living in the colorful Land of the Dead, biding time until I join them in their dancing and singing.  (of course, I believe in Ancient Aliens, too, so what do I know?)

I know this much:  Life is short and Death is long.

So get out there and Be Alive while you still can…and don’t forget to remember the Grateful Dead…

Peace

15 years ago today…

My Mom passed over sometime in her sleep, between the hours of 9pm and 1:00, October 31-November 1.

I was the last person to speak to her, but I had No Idea it would be our last phone call.  She had enjoyed the trick-or-treaters that had kept her hopping all evening.  While we were talking, a few more came to the door and I heard her praising their costumes before she picked the phone back up to tell me how cute they were.  It was just a check-in phone call, for my mama expected to be called Every Day and fussed loudly if you went too long without calling or coming by.  She said nothing much was up, that she was feeling fine.  We closed that Last Conversation as we always did:  I Love you, Mom.  Love you, too, Sweet-Pea.

The following afternoon, I received a frantic phone call from my sister:  Mom is dead!  Mom is dead!

We drove the mile between my house and hers.  I ran past the ambulance and firetrucks, through the throng of EMT’s and Paramedics standing with their eyes averted to my panic, into Mom’s bedroom where she lay as if in sleep…curled on her side with her hands under her ear.

No, Mom!  No!  I screamed.  No!  I knelt by her bed and held her lifeless body and cried.

I cried for days…months…  I’m crying now…  I miss her Always…

My Dad had died 5 years earlier.  My birth family had been clearly divided for a decade before that.  When Mom died, that was the end.  My siblings and I were courteous and fair when dealing with the inheritance, but that was all she wrote for those relationships.  We walk very different paths.

I often wonder (as does anyone who has lost a loved one) what she would have thought about all the changes, especially how she would have Loved her Great-Grandchildren.  I wonder what she would have thought about the smartphones and facebook.  I Fear what she would have thought about Politics!

Last night we lit a bonfire and I burned some rosemary to remember both Mom and Dad.

They live in my heart and in my head, in my music and in my Home.  Hardly perfect, their example of what Not to Do was often my inspiration.

I wish they could have had more peace in their lives, more happiness.  So I take the Happy Memories.   I tell their Stories and Sing their Songs to my grandchildren.   Smiling, they live on…

Peace