Dia de los Muertos

Will I have to go alone
like the flowers that perish?
Will nothing remain of my name?
Nothing of my fame here on earth?
At least my flowers, at least my songs!

Ayocuan Cuetzpaltzin, 15th C. Aztec poet

As our days shorten, and our nights lengthen, the energies of our garden
recede for winter and our thoughts begin turning inward. Our upcoming holidays are very much in keeping with this shift in energies. Halloween, originally called Hallowe’en, or Holy Evening, is a holiday with cross-cultural roots. A closely related Hispanic holiday celebrated at nearly the same time is Day of the Dead, or Dia de los Muertos.

Jardin perico

[Jardin Perico, compliments of Carolyn Leigh.]

Dia de los Muertos is a special time in the lives of our Hispanic neighbors when they honor their ancestors by embracing and celebrating those in their families who have passed. They build altars to honor their dearly departed and, as a tribute, prepare their ancestors’ favorite foods. Upon their altars they place candles, the favored foods, and ropes of marigolds, which they view as a symbol of death. I must confess that I learned about these marigold ropes by once returning to a Mexican hotel after a trip to the local market gaily sporting one around my neck and someone discreetly informed me what they were for. So much for understanding local customs. No matter. Lesson learned, and I took it to heart.

When my Border Collie Peaches died two years ago at the foot of my bed I went into the garden and strung marigolds on a thin red cord and then wrapped them lovingly and gently around her beautiful black and white neck, which made me weep the more, but she wholly deserved the honor. A kindly friend helped me carry her body into the back of my car and I drove, slowly, (deliriously) to a crematorium for animals, which, blessedly, Phoenix had. Once there I was determined to see her through to the very end. I pushed past my horrific fears and pain and asked to see what would transpire. They readily accommodated me, without question or hesitation. I was ushered quietly to the back of the small building. Outside on a cement patio stood a tall, stalwart Mexican gentleman who stood beside a simple oven. He opened the door and showed me the deep cavern which would later hold the body of my most precious dog. He told me in gentle and natural terms how he would put three dogs into the oven at a time. And the fires would purify their bodies as fire always does and render them into three piles of bones. Then these people lovingly and carefully put the three piles of bones into three buckets, each labeled. And the three buckets of bones were then carefully transferred into a machine one at a time that would pulverize the bones into a fine fine dust. They were very proud of this particular machine and told me how efficient it was, one of the best. I saw the result of some other person’s doggie’s bones, now a fine powdered grey dust. Dust to dust. All from a star. I’m sure you know. I steeled myself to my grief to allow myself to stay open to what was about to ensue. I had purchased a lovely enameled urn for my beloved Peaches’ powdered bones. They would return this to me at an agreed upon time.

I drove home in stunned silence, without my Peach by my side. She always rode in the passenger seat, accompanying me across country twice, and I don’t think I could have endured driving through the rural South without her. I know for a fact I could not. She was the most gentle BEST dog one could ever have wanted. So good. So conscious. So loving and loyal. And now she was gone.

As I returned over the path over which I’d arrived, I noticed a Unitarian Church on my right I’d not seen before, and I made a mental note to return. Indeed, on the very next Sunday I did return and found myself quite at home. Perhaps I’d found a church I could feel comfortable in? Alas, I felt a seering disappointment when the friendly minister took the pulpit and announced it was his last Sunday, that he was moving on. What am I doing here? His sermon began so:

“A woman had a dream. She dreamed she was walking her dear dog. But as she walked she suddenly realized that this dog had died. She looked around at the pastoral setting in what seemed to her to be a kind of heaven. Before her spread a vast meadow where the dog could run and be happy. And when the woman awoke from the dream she knew this dog was safe and well and would be there when she crossed over, awaiting her.”

I could scarcely contain myself. Tears streamed down my face and I immediately saw that Peaches’ death had required me to follow a specific path to take her to her final destination. That I would notice the church I’d never seen before. That I would arrive the very last day of this minister’s watch over this church. And his message was that my Peaches was fine. Was watching. Was waiting.

This kind of experience one has to stay tuned for. Must be ready to receive.
Must be open to receive. These are the blessings that surround us daily. They are found in the garden, and in every moment of our lives.

marigold bar

5 Responses to “Dia de los Muertos”

  1. Thanks for sharing your beautiful story.

  2. I am so glad that you share a love for animals as I do.

    They are the best, most loyal and unjudgemental of friends that we can ever hope to have.

    All they ask of us is to give them our love and take care of thier simple needs. In return they give us wonderful and happy days, and memories we will always cherish.

    My cat Kisa is nearly 19 years old, and has been with me longer than my husband of 16 years. She is nearing the end of her life here with us, and so as I was reading the tender words that Kathryn wrote, I had a difficult time getting through the whole story while reading through my tears.

    I believe that when they leave us, they go to the other side and wait patiently to see us again, tails wagging and ears perked up to hear our steps.

    Thanks Kathryn for your loving kindness to your animals, and reminding us all how wonderful it is to have our four-legged friends.

  3. How extraordinary that your cat Kisa has been with you for nearly two decades! This is surely a tribute to your loving care and relationship.

  4. hola kathryn its me i really enjoyed reading your story. its very touching and it made me get chills. but it also made me smile because i can relate to what you felt at the time when you heard the minister preach his sermon. its an overwhelming powerful feeling and it makes you smile. c u soon

  5. Hi, Juana, Yes, I agree. There are some communications that are so magical and enlivening, if we only pay attention to when they come. And you never know where they will come from! Kathryn xox

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