Dia(s) de Las Muertas: Bringing Life to Death

Celebrating Mexico and Catholicism is not my usual modus operandi. Neither was losing a beloved sister suddenly.

In the 13 months since Mimi died, I’ve accepted there’s hole in my heart that will never heal. But there’s a peace offering in the ongoing celebration of Dia de Las Muertas, or Day of the Dead.

Mexico’s biggest festival ends today, November 2nd, on what the country calls All Soul’s Day, a time to honor the newly, and long, departed. 

Thus I remember my sister Mimi today and recent rituals to honor her life’s impact and meaning in our lives.

On her birth day, we placed her ashes inside our home church’s columbarium. Mimi’s steel urn now hugs our mother’s brass one, placed there six years ago. All that separates the pair is a picture, seen below (far right).

This hand‐carved columbarium holds cremated remains in perpetuity at our childhood church, St. Matthew’s Episcopal. The small spaces in the wall are called niches that hold urns of ashes. 

Unlike a cemetery, a columbarium is not built into the ground but rather inside a church wall or a similar structure. It’s also not a mausoleum, a building built for caskets, either buried or entombed.

As important: interment is burial in the ground; inurnment is when cremated ashes are placed in an urn followed by final location in a niche.

I didn’t want this education, either. 

In the church chapel, we gifted flowers overflowing with symbolism.

The single red rose honored our sister. Yellow flowers on the right recognized our parents and grandmother (our father and his mother rest in the niche’s back row). The varied floral spray on the left celebrates living family members.

On the one year anniversary of Mimi’s passing, my other sister and I remembered the eldest with a Jewish Yahrzeit observation. This annual rite commemorates a loved one’s death with rituals celebrated by Jewish faithful since the 14th century.

This observance was Merrilynn’s idea, mirroring a ritual she conducts after her own experiences of heartbreaking loss.

Together, we lit three white candles, read Yahrzeit meditations, prayed together, and said blessings to our departed sister. We even offered ring‐topped cupcakes. Mimi smiled.

Now today, I’m honoring loss and grief again. Writing can be ritual, too.

And I finally understand. Without knowing it, I’ve been practicing Dias de Las Muertas since August. Three times.

Ancient archetypes awaken again.

The human condition: we’re not different from each other, are we?

Important perspective to remember with this thing we’ve got happening in America tomorrow.

So who are you remembering on this All Soul’s Day? 

Taking a Rest on the Tree of Life

Tree of Life, copyright Oisin Kelly.

Years ago, renowned Irish sculptor Oisin Kelly hand‐cast his interpretation of the Tree of Life.

His artwork hung in my mother’s den for years.

Its recent re‐discovery offers new meaning in a life battered by Big Change.

Creation’s trunk?

In Kelly’s detail work, I spy more than a simplistic image of the Garden of Eden story. 

I see a strong center, rising in bands up from the ground, each aiming skyward in search of new air.

I count the threads of strength — four — and find my favorite number. Is there a message here?

I find a solid base, anchored deep in the earth but not buried there. Holding there for a strong foundation from which to rise.

Branching out to expand Life.

In these branches, I see possibility. Make that possibilities.

I discover multiple limbs stretching out and up, seeking further growth.

I count bud after bud of either leaves or acorns, I do not know. Maybe some scarabs (of the mystical Egyptian kind?

I spot finger‐like growths stretching past boundaries, hungry for something new.

Curious about the sculptor’s artistic life, I discover (thank you, Wikipedia) where he’s cited in “Glanmore Sonnet” by Seamus Heaney:

These things are not secrets but mysteries

Oisin Kelly told me years ago

In Belfast, hankering after stone

That connived with the chisel, as if the grain

Remembered what the mallet tapped to know.”

I read these words and know instantly why I was drawn to this Tree of Life.

The message comes as clear as Kelly chiseling the stone that became his creation above: take a six‐week sabbatical from RoadBroads.

After weeks of intense, unending work, it’s time to chisel out the final mysteries of my sister’s life and estate. These revelations promise critical conclusions, both of which demand my focused time and energy.

Thus, I return to this blog in late February.

Call it a different kind of birthday present.

What better blog return than the day your life finishes its annual solar return?

In six Sundays, I’ll write here again.

Promise.

That’s the day after Leap Day.

Perfect!