Time to Remember

23 Oct

I almost didn’t do it.

Halloween will be here soon, and we had already decorated the front porch with strands of cottony spider webs and dangling skeletons. We’ve been planning our costumes for weeks now and a tiny witch’s costume and black hat dangle spookily in the closet when it’s not being tried on over and over again. Bright orange pumpkins, swollen with seeds, sit on the hearth waiting to be hollowed out and turned into grimacing goblins.

It’s that season again, when the days shorten and the change of light paints shadow pictures on the sidewalks as the sun settles lower in the sky. I knew that there was still one thing left to be done, but I thought that I just didn’t want to do it again this year. My husband, Rene still hadn’t brought it up, so I figured that we just weren’t going to get around to it.

Selfishly, I was relieved that he hadn’t said anything, because I just didn’t feel like digging through the shed to look for all the boxes. The thought of having to sift through all of the stuff was more than just a bit overwhelming. Besideswhy do I always have to be the one who does everything around here?

Then last Saturday evening, my oldest daughter, Nora said, “Mom, I’m going to set up the altar—want to help?” and I suddenly realized that I did want to help.

We moved tables and covered them with white cloths; we emptied boxes of candles and vases and arranged them around the centerpiece of a grinning papier-mâché skull. My daughter Isa and her best friend, Tali helped tape tissue paper onto an arch that stretched across the window in a rainbow of pink, orange and yellow flowers. Lastly and most importantly, we lovingly dusted off the photographs and placed them on the altar. The following day, we took a trip to the farmer’s market and bought bunches of fresh marigolds and gladioli and came home and filled up the vases.

Isa and Tali helping to set up the altar.

The altar was ready for Dia de los Muertos. It’s time to remember.

I’d been trying to ignore the importance of this celebration because I’d been thinking all along that it’s only for Rene that we do it each year. After all, it’s his Mexican culture, not mine.  Yet in the process setting up the altar; through the act of looking at all the photographs of the people who have died and really thinking about them, I always realize how important this celebration is to me.

Time has a way of robbing us of that deep connection we once had with our loved ones, no matter how devastating their deaths were to us. People die—even children die—and yet somehow life manages to continue on no matter what. Our memories fade and those of us who are still here on this earth tend to let those memories slip into the recesses of our consciousness. As we move on with our lives, we forget to remember. And in forgetting, we lose that sense of emotional connection that we once held so deeply in our hearts.

I want to remember these people because in doing so, they continue to stay alive.

Lexi died last February, so this is the first time she's been placed on our altar.

Lexi Krasnoff died last February, so this is the first time she’s been placed on our altar.

Rosie Chavez was a star who still shines brightly on our altar. We left her some red lollipops.

Michael “T.T” McGrew and Jessi Modeen both died from their cancer. I never met Jessi, but found out after Isa was diagnosed that her mother, Denise used to live three houses down from us and I babysat her when she was a child. She always loved my name, and gave it to Jessi when she was born.

It’s impossible to forget little Jeffrey Zamora! Rene’s parents, Herlinda and Elias Mireles watch over him in the background.

Our altar at night with all of the candles lit. My dad is right above the skull.

Our precious Gillian Winters.

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15 Responses to “Time to Remember”

  1. meleinsb October 23, 2012 at 2:48 pm #

    I’m so glad that Nora made the decision to put up the altar. While I too, view it as Rene’s cultural “thing” I confess……I love it too! It is such a fantastic way to simply celebrate a life lost. Not in a mournful way but in a brightly lit, effervescent way that is full of the good memories. I don’t ever perceive the altar as something sad and am glad ( odd choice of words but best I can do right now ) that Gillian is a part of it and I know she would absolutely love all the flowers and colours and food 🙂 The only downside is how much bigger the table gets each year. Lets hope it stops enlarging! Thank you all xoxoxoxo

    • Allegro non tanto October 23, 2012 at 7:02 pm #

      I don’t think of the altar as sad, either. I see it as a reflection of love! I’ll have to remember to run out to Taco Bell for a burrito and put it by Gillian’s photos!

  2. Becky Green Aaronson October 23, 2012 at 2:57 pm #

    Jessica, I love that you do this every year. What a beautiful tribute. Thanks for sharing it with all of us!

  3. darlenecraviotto October 23, 2012 at 3:06 pm #

    I have never fully understood the importance of Dia de Los Muertos until seeing the faces of the people on your altar. I now understand completely. Thanks for showing me the way.

  4. Gabriela October 23, 2012 at 3:53 pm #

    Jessie, where I come from we haven’t had Halloween, it has become a latest fashion when the whole world turns toward Western traditions and culture. When I was growing up we would go to cemetary to light candles on graves, sit in darknes with flickering lights on graves, meet with relatives and remember!!! it was and still is special, by remebering we give the ones who are no longer here extension of earthly life but also it is a moment, hour…for us to think who we are what made us us …..Slower pace in today’s rat race world

    • Allegro non tanto October 23, 2012 at 7:04 pm #

      That’s exactly what they do in Oaxaca, Mexico–they actually light hundreds of candles, spread marigolds all over, and spend the night in the cemetery with their loved ones. And you’re right, Gabriela–we would not be who we are today without our ancestors.

  5. Charla Bregante October 23, 2012 at 7:47 pm #

    Thank you for sharing this, Jessie. Believe it or not this is exactly what I plan to write about this week! AND I have been struggling to find the time to set up our ofrenda. Think I might do it right now! Thank you for the inspiration.

    • Allegro non tanto October 28, 2012 at 9:49 pm #

      I look forward to reading your blog about it! It certainly is a magical tradition, isn’t it?

  6. debatterman October 24, 2012 at 8:10 am #

    I think rituals like lightning a candle on the anniversary of someone’s death (in the Jewish tradition) or setting up an altar on the Day of the Dead (in the Mexican tradition) are important. Yes, I couldn’t agree more re: the way in which time robs us “of that deep connection we once had with our loved ones.” Then we look at photos to remember faces, smiles, moments we shared. And maybe these rituals speak to that bigger of life and death being a continuum. Doesn’t necessarily take away the sadness I may feel when I think of my mother gone. And it does nothing to relieve me of my own sense of mortality. But if there’s something bigger than us all ‘out there’, I take some solace in connecting with something called ‘spirit.’

  7. Bonnie Forman Gerstenfeld October 24, 2012 at 11:24 am #

    nice

    >________________________________ >From: Allegro non tanto >To: bonfire0126@yahoo.com >Sent: Tuesday, October 23, 2012 2:27 PM >Subject: [New post] Time to Remember > >Allegro non tanto posted: ” I almost didn’t do it. Halloween will be here soon, and we had already decorated the front porch with strands of cottony spider webs and dangling skeletons. We’ve been planning our costumes for weeks now and a tiny witch’s costume and black h” >

    • Allegro non tanto October 24, 2012 at 12:06 pm #

      Hope you don’t mind I used Tali’s photo! I should have asked first!

  8. Melanie October 27, 2012 at 6:05 pm #

    Thank the universe for our children who find value in and insist on traditions. The hassle of dust and hauling boxes seems trivial in light of the love, remembrance and connectedness they invoke in us. As Jim and I face the nearness of our parents’ mortality, I am edging closer to bringing this particular tradition alive in our home. I think it will be important for Lura and Aidan as they confront loss in a real way for the first time.

    • Allegro non tanto October 28, 2012 at 9:52 pm #

      Fight it as we may, death is inevitable. Although it’s often painful, I think that by facing it openly and honestly, we can learn to accept in the long run. Death is just a part of our lives, and when we realize this, it’s easier to live each and every moment to the fullest.

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