Yesterday, November 2, was The Day of the Dead.
I love The Day of the Dead. We don’t really have The Day of the Dead in English (as my different lives are divided in my mind); I didn’t learn about it until I got to Costa Rica. Then when I heard it named, I thought it sounded awful. I’m already not a huge fan of Halloween (gasp) because I don’t like gory/scary things—and now we have ANOTHER day about dead people on its heels? Great.
But, lucky for me,The Day of the Dead is just the opposite; it’s a fiesta in the cemetery. And maybe there’s a clue as to why it isn’t celebrated where I come from: November is not exactly picnic weather in most of the northern hemisphere. That and to celebrate it properly you have to believe or at least tolerate the idea of saints and souls and other non-Mennonite/Puritanical stuff.
On The Day of the Dead in Latin America or where ever it is celebrated, people take flowers (real, cloth, plastic, home-made) to decorate the graves of their dead. And streamers and bows and every cheerful colorful thing you can imagine. They take food and gifts and in some countries spread picnic blankets on the grass and have meals with their deceased loved ones. Children run around and siblings squabble about how to place the decorations on grandma’s grave and dogs are constantly being scolded and ants crawl on the sandwiches and everybody is wearing their colorful best. Forget ghosts and goblins and fake bloody hands poking out of the grass.
I didn’t have very many dead when I first came to appreciate the celebration, and none at all in Costa Rica. Now I have them everywhere.
* * *
I cannot take flowers to all of my dead or even name you all anymore. You are from too many times and in too many places. But I am having a fiesta for you in the place I have buried you in my heart. It is covered with flowers and streamers and there is cake for everyone, including:
A high school classmate who died in a car accident while we were still students. She is the first friend I ever lost.
A few years older than I am and I worshiped the ground she walked on in high school and college. Everyone expected her to recover from Hodgkin’s’ Disease in her early 20s.
In his mid-seventies when he died of complications from a stroke or of a heart attack.
Great Grandpa Horning
Died in his sleep in at age 105.
A girl in college whose name I forget. I didn’t know her.
Disappeared while she was driving to her mother’s house and was found much later, murdered.
My Costa Rican father and he died of liver failure. Or that is how I remember it.
A friend in Costa Rica who died driving drunk on his motorcycle.
My friend’s perfect 10-month-old perfect baby who flew out the window during a car accident and the angels took him away.
Uncle Earl, my dad’s brother
He was struck by a car while he was getting the mail out of his mailbox.
A close friend in high school and then we lost contact. He died a few years ago from complications of brain cancer surgery.
A father figure in Costa Rica who died of cancer.
My ex-father-in-law who was kind and I loved him. I don’t remember the name of the disease.
A neighbor in Costa Rica, a butcher from Italy who was always joking and smiling. I did not expect that he would hang himself.
We had Christmas dinner together in Costa Rica the year before he went to prison where he died.
Starved to death as a result of advanced Alzheimer’s in his early 90s.
Died a few days after a massive stroke in her early 90s.
Crazy guy who used to cut my hair
Saul’s mother who lived to be 100. She called me her granddaughter and told me the best stories I ever heard while her mind was clear.
My other grandma in Costa Rica, matriarch of matriarchs.
My friend in Costa Rica who always called me “Lady Di.” He died of a degenerative disease I cannot name.
My dear friend Barbara disappeared a month after I left Costa Rica and is still missing.