My daughter and I started admiring and collecting artwork and other pieces related to Dia de los Muertos, a Mexican holiday commemorating deceased loved ones, a few years ago. Something about the juxtaposition of the very macabre skulls and bones mixed with vibrant and beautiful jewels and flowers intrigues us. Although images of sugar skulls and other aspects of this holiday have gained mainstream popularity, there is so much more than meets the eye about the Day of the Dead.
On the surface, the holiday appears to be a Mexican version of Halloween. In western culture, skeletons and anything associated with death are assumed to be scary, devilish, or evil. The fact that Dia de los Muertos begins right as Halloween is being celebrated makes it easy for the two to be confused. Certainly, many of the beautiful elements of Day of the Dead have been mistakenly absorbed into Halloween.
I find the festivity fascinating because it is actually a means to pay tribute to one’s beloved friends and family who have passed away. Many times, we do not like to imagine the physical fate of our loved one’s bodies after they are deceased, but this holiday puts bones in the forefront as it welcomes participants to honor the lives of their ancestors by decorating masks and created skeletons in vibrant colors, costumes, and depictions of their past life. Tributes are left on graves, and the dead seem to walk among the living in a harmonious and loving way.
I find it touching to embrace the inevitable mortality of the ones we love in joyful remembrance rather than solely associating death as a negative part of life. It is unavoidable, so rather than hiding from it, why not make it beautiful and a reason to celebrate?
As a divorced person, I also find myself seeing other symbolism in a concept that takes something broken and lifeless, and transforms it into something of great beauty and vibrancy! Part of me, certainly part of my life, died when I divorced. There was nothing festive, happy, or beautiful about it. It was like the harsh, cold reality of a lifeless skeleton buried below ground, largely to be forgotten. That part of me was mourned, persisted as a painful reminder of the past and something I could no longer have, and it haunted my future.
Suddenly, the fact that loss had occurred was no longer a reason to be held back into the depths of darkness or solitude. Yes, it was over; but not everything was! After that death, there was still life and new chances for happiness and celebrating with the living. The old could be remembered, revered, and learned from; but, much like a dazzling butterfly, my life was able to rise from the grave and find new purpose and rejuvenation!
Many people may find skeletal remains creepy, but I find them charming and comforting. Within a sugar skull or depiction of a loved one’s personality and interests adorning a skeleton, I see evidence that life, love, and hope are eternal.
A terrible event, like divorce, may extract every desire we have to live, in that moment. We may feel completely hopeless, lifeless, and as though our life is over. Divorce is like a little death. It is, without a doubt, a terrible loss that was never meant to be. We all expect to die at the end of a long life, but not to end the life of the marriage we vowed to last forever. Mourning is necessary, and time to put everything into perspective.
Finally, those dry and chalky bones lay still until a decision from within is made to either let them remain dead forever more, or to allow them to emerge from the darkness. If we decide, death can trade places with light, music, friendship, flowers, savory delights, and color and light that shines from our soul!
I chose to break free from my divorce grave and live life again! I wouldn’t want to endure divorce again, but the darkness made me appreciate the love, laughter, light, and color even more.
A little skeletal representation of me and my past life graces a shelf in my home. She watches over me and protects me, but mostly she reminds me of who I once was, what my life was, and the death I endured when my marriage ended. She’s not a scary or forlorn and abandoned skeleton, however. She has sass, sparkle, and style! She has her arms wide open to dance, love, and live again! My personal Dia de los Muertos is a tribute to everything my life can be again after the worst I could possibly imagine!