Growing up, I remember grief being expressed very privately in our family. My grandmother, mi Nana Carmen, kept private niches of loved ones on her dresser. When I asked about them, she refused to talk to about it.
That’s not who I am. I talk about it. I express it. I write about it.
I’ve been tangled up in all these feelings over the last eight months – the loss, the grief, the leftover love. I’ve needed a way to express these feelings. More importantly, I needed a way to honor my mom. It led to me creating my first altar, una ofrenda, during Día de los Muertos.
During the process, I talked to my mom and listened to her favorite songs. I even kicked my feet up on my desk and enjoyed some cafecito just like she used to do. I burned a candle that smelled like arroz con leche.
It’s believed that the souls of the our loved ones return to visit us during this time. I think that’s why I played the music and burned the candle. If it’s true, and I hope it is, I wanted those familiar smells and sounds to lead my mom’s soul back to me.
Oct. 28: “The first candle is lit to help guide and receive lost souls.”
I started the altar with some photos and her favorite coffee mug. Yes, that’s my mom dressed up as Elvira for Halloween. I was 15 and she used my teeny-bopper bra to create that cleavage. The bra was ruined after that, I had to toss it.
Oct. 29: “The next candle is lit and water is placed in honor of the abandoned and forgotten souls.”
The center photo is a framed memorial card that we passed out at her service. It reads, “My mind still talks to you. My heart still looks for you. My soul knows you’re at peace.” It was written by my oldest daughter.
Oct. 30: “White bread is placed for those who passed without eating.”
On this day, I added a photo of my Nana Carmen and my Tía Lupe. There was something about the bread. My earliest childhood memories of our food, nuestra comida, come from their kitchens.
Oct. 31: “Pan de Muerto and fruit is added for our ancestors. “
On this day, I added more family photos: my grandfather, my great-grandparents and my uncle. Why the pear? My mom loved pears.
Nov. 1: “More food is put on the altar as we remember the spirits of our loved ones and prepare to welcome them.”
On this day, I added a concha, Mexican sweet bread, some chocolates and more fruit.
Nov. 2: “Souls of our loved ones come to visit us and eat the offering placed on the altar.”
Here’s a look at the ofrenda in its entirety. On the last day, I added a signature piece: a shadow box with a photo of my mom from her last birthday. At the bottom, it says, “Recuérdame.” And the Cherry Coke? That was her favorite and it’s the one thing she kept asking for near the end.
Soy hija de Gloria. Hija de guerrera. Esta es la historia de mi mamá. Y mi terapia.
I’m Gloria’s daughter. Daughter of a warrior. This is my mom’s story. And my therapy.