Photo by Carlos Aranda on Unsplash

By Alejandro Ramos

It goes without saying that the past year was long and difficult for all of us. We all lost something because of the pandemic. For some, it was peace of mind. For others, it was a sense of community. 

For me, it was a loved one. Like many people, I lost one of my closest uncles in the middle of the worst public health crisis in a century. I mourned. I grieved. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to say goodbye properly for a number of reasons – mainly because of the pandemic and because he lived in Mexico with his family. I thought I would be okay in time if I prayed and mourned on my own. It turned out that I never got the closure I needed. 

Cultures around the world have different traditions when it comes to mourning. Growing up, my family practiced el novenario, or nine days of prayer, whenever a family member passed away. It’s a tradition my parents brought with them when they emigrated from Mexico. We’ve done it a couple of times, but it was mostly for distant relatives with whom I had little contact or connection. Losing my uncle was different though, and el novenario wasn’t enough to help me cope with his loss.

I realized I didn’t have my own way to grieve and mourn the loss of my uncle, or any of my loved ones for that matter. I didn’t have the tools to process the level of grief I felt. It was a heavy, numbing emotion I hadn’t felt before. It greatly affected my mental health. I wasn’t able to sleep or be present in conversations. I became distant, even from my spouse. 

That brings me to Dia De Los Muertos. While it’s not a tradition my parents raised me with, it’s one I want to adopt myself for my household. I want to give myself a choice as to how I want to honor and respect my loved ones as they pass on. It’s a way for me to say goodbye on my terms and check in with the memories of my loved ones once a year. 

Not only that, but it’s also a communal affair. Grief is painful and too much to carry alone. It’s much easier to do it with the help of friends and family who can sing, dance, laugh, and reminisce with you. 

The thing about traditions and community is that you can make new ones whenever you want. That is so needed, especially now as we’re still coping with the impact of COVID-19. 

And now I want to take a moment to say a few words about my uncle, Salvador Gonzalez. He was larger than life, physically and personality-wise. His voice, low and gravelly from years of smoking, would fill the room whenever he talked. He was always there for my family whenever we visited Mexico. He would talk to me and ask me questions about how things were going in the United States. Thank you for everything, Tio Salvador. I hope you receive my ofrenda and see that we’re still hechandole ganas in your memory.

You can learn more about Dia De Los Muertos by visting https://dayofthedead.holiday/.