A Holiday to Celebrate Our Children: Dia de los Muertos
By Lara Gillham, Jackson’s Mom
Dia de los Muertos (pronounced “dee-ah deh lohs mwher-tohs”), or the day of the dead, is a holiday I didn’t know existed before my son Jackson died. I can’t even recall exactly how I came upon it, but when I did, I was in awe at the beautiful celebrations that honor loved ones who have died. I didn’t want another holiday to be sad and cry about missing Jackson; I had plenty of those. What I loved so much about it was that it was a way to celebrate Jackson’s life and our memories of him while simultaneously acknowledging his death.
It’s a two day celebration, largely rooted in Mexico, but found throughout Latin America. The first day is on November 1st and is called Dia de los Angelitos, or day of the little angels. It is meant to honor children who have died. The second day is November 2nd and is devoted to loved ones who died as adults. While there are a variety of ways to celebrate, including parades, parties at gravesites, and baking a special bread, one of the main focal points is an altar each family sets up in their home or at a gravesite. The altar can be anything (I use my fireplace mantel) and is adorned with pictures of the loved ones they are celebrating, their favorite foods and drinks, and lots of sugar skulls and candles. In our house we set this up in early October so we can enjoy it all month long. The theory behind the altar is that it helps your loved ones find their way back to you for the day.
For my family, this holiday is such a perfect fit. It incorporates orange, Jackson’s favorite color. It helps bring joy during a time of year that is otherwise very difficult for us, as the anniversary of Jackson’s hospital stay and death begin in November. We can celebrate it as much or as little as we can handle each year.
We are so proud to include this annual tradition in our lives. I encourage everyone to read about Dia de los Muertos and see if it makes sense to add it to your holidays. You can even learn more about it by watching the Pixar movie “Coco”.
Dia de los Muertos recognizes death as a natural part of the human experience. While I wish every day that my son didn’t die, it’s nice to be able to acknowledge his death without feeling like it’s a taboo topic. In fact, I feel like I’m celebrating him all month long.