Honoring The Ones We’ve Lost on Día de los Muertos

In the past, when the Day of the Dead came around my mother, my aunt and I would set up an ofrenda or altar for my uncle. With the holiday approaching, I find myself reflecting on how best to honor the ones we’ve lost. As I set up his framed photo, set out my candles, and wonder what food he would like this year, I find myself struggling to deal with the tragedy of remembering all the things left unsaid and the silly reasons they remained so. It’s hard to know until it’s too late just how meaningful those moments could have been.

The lasting tragedy is the fact that when we lose someone close to us, we mourn not only their absence from our present but from our future. Whenever I think about my uncle, it’s hard not to wonder how he would feel about the woman I am today. A prominent memory I have of him is all the times he would tell my cousin and I that he expected us to do big things with the sacrifices of our family. I often lament that he never saw us finish high school, or go off to college, yet his memory floods my mind at many of my life milestones.

We have now lived in a pandemic for well over a year, and it’s important to realize loss means so much more than death. Over the pandemic it’s been hard to keep a hold of hope when public health measures have become politicized. Economically, the world faces crisis after crisis and is faced with another recession. The cancellation of events like senior prom, graduation, and homecoming parades continue to make many young people feel cheated out of the quintessential high school and college experience. Whenever I talk with my older peers, it’s hard not to acknowledge the fact that my first year of college was much different and less of a social experience, when compared to theirs. Even the loss of sentimental items via deliberate or accidental means can be devastating; I once lost a stuffed duck my uncle gifted me when I moved houses and was inconsolable.

On the other hand, there’s a special comfort that holidays such as Day of the Dead bring. Holidays commemorating loss helps us know we aren’t alone in our grief. It’s a prominent holiday in Mexico and other regions for a reason. Similarly, there’s All Souls’ day, a catholic holiday on November 2nd to commemorate lost loved ones. These holidays help us with loss because we know there’s always time set aside to honor our loved ones, give validation to our ongoing mourning, and let us know that when our time comes we will not be forgotten.

Jaylene Canales was born in Hamilton, Ohio and has lived in the state her whole life. She is currently pursuing a degree in World Language Education at the Ohio State University. She plans to teach Spanish or English in the future, preferably at an elementary school level.

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