How Celebrating Dia de Los Muertos In Mexico Allowed Me To Further Process The Loss Of My Mother
Life & Travel

How Celebrating Dia de Los Muertos In Mexico Allowed Me To Further Process The Loss Of My Mother

Can I be honest? Grief is hard. Not only is it hard, but it’s a never-ending process and journey. I lost my mother to metastatic endometrial cancer in February 2021, and while my grief process hasn’t been as hard as some, it definitely has not been easy. So, as a way to change my perspective on her no longer being here physically, I decided to participate in a Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebration in Mexico on the actual day.

Traditionally, Dia de los Muertos is observed on November 1 and 2. Families gather and build ofrendas (a type of altar with various offerings) to peacefully welcome and guide the deceased’s spirit back to the “other side.” The offerings consist of everything from the person’s favorite foods, a photo of them, a mirror, candles, and a cross, among other things. On that night, people may dress in catrina attire and paint their faces with skull-like art to resemble the country’s take on ghosts and spirits. There’s also a dinner as well as singing and dancing throughout the night. It’s literally a celebration.

In full transparency, I’ve never been one to participate in ceremonies like this or traditional rituals that essentially “call” spirits or the ancestors back. We can mostly blame that on being raised in North Carolina— you know, the whole bible belt South, and their beliefs that anything “beyond the Bible” is a sin or the devil. But I’ll digress there.

Photo courtesy of DeAnna Taylor

I traveled to the Jalisco state of Mexico to spend a few days visiting Hacienda Patrón, aka the tequila brand’s main compound and distilling site. I was invited to stay in the private guesthouse— La Casona— as we spent time learning everything about the popular spirit company. From how Patrón only uses three ingredients (water, agave, and yeast) to seeing the details put into each bottle, it was truly a unique and memorable experience. But the best part was being able to participate in the local area’s Dia celebration.

That evening, we started by getting our makeup done. Since we are ultimately honoring those who have passed on, I opted for a design made from pearl-like jewels. My mother would always tell me how, as a lady, I needed to keep a set of pearls at all times. She and my maternal grandmother— who has also passed on— loved them and saw them as elegant. So, it was only right that I incorporated them into the night. Since I wasn’t in my own home or even a family member’s home, I wasn’t able to build my own ofrenda, so this was my “offering” in a sense.

Photo courtesy of DeAnna Taylor

Beyond the makeup, I was able to partake in a traditional dinner that consisted of several courses, including pan de muerto (bread of the dead)— which is usually baked on the holiday as a part of the offerings.

Dressed in all black, we then joined the larger community celebration, where several families publicly displayed their ofrendas for the entire crowd. We spent time viewing each one, and it was very reminiscent of walking in a cemetery, except everything was colorful and bright. Most ofrendas were decked out in freshly cut marigolds placed in ways that made out special designs or messages to the deceased. There were tons of candles and of course, all the trinkets and snacks that the non-living family member would have loved.

Photo courtesy of DeAnna Taylor

Walking around, I felt an overwhelming sense of joy, which is unique for me as I am often uneasy when walking in a cemetery— even in the daylight. Seeing those families honor their deceased loved ones in such a celebratory and joyful way while bringing a bit of humanity back to them was so beautiful.

When I got back to my room at La Casona, a wave of emotion came over me— I cried, but they were happy tears. I couldn’t help but think of my mother and, ultimately, the things I would place on an altar to honor and guide her back to the other side. Of course, there would be pearls, a photo of her, vanilla-scented candles, some Corn Flakes with bananas, and maybe even a steak from Outback— because those were some of the meals she loved.

Being able to experience this type of event served as a reminder that although my mom is no longer here physically, she’s never too far away in the spiritual realm. It allowed me to essentially find an added layer of peace with her passing, too. I think from here out, I will incorporate some of the elements of Dia de los Muertos into my own life because, as far as I’m concerned, my mother’s spirit is always welcomed back to visit. I love you, ma!

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Feature image courtesy of DeAnna Taylor

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