“Should you shield the valleys from the windstorms, you would never see the beauty of their canyons.”- Elizabeth Kubler-Ross
I so admire Latinx culture, specifically the emphasis on celebrating the lives of their deceased loved ones on a special day, Dia de los Muertos. November 2 marks this tradition, originating in Mexico, to honor ancestors by creating altars with cherished photos, favorite foods, candles, and sugar skulls. Family members gather at grave sites and altars in the home to share stories of their loved ones who have transitioned to the next place, finding comfort in family support through holding the space to narrate the story of their ancestors impact on their lives. A general spirit of celebration and remembrance is the emphasis, including laughter and camaraderie. Death is not feared. It is merely a passage to a different phase of transcendence.
Western culture generally does not do a good job of openly acknowledging death, much less celebrating a deceased person’s life. Particularly in the sunny state of California, cemeteries are few and far between. Those that exist are tucked away, hidden from view and away from major thoroughfares. It is as if the sun shines so brightly in the Golden State that to see a grey gravestone puts a damper on the shiny, palm-tree strewn, car-infested, celebrity-slammed, smog-infused wonder that is Los Angeles. Most definitely, due mainly to the cost of land, many prefer cremation to burial in this state. So to see a cemetery is to take a glimpse at Hollywood Forever Cemetery or Forest Lawn, where rock stars and famous celebrities are buried. But you have to drive a ways to get there, and it isn’t so obvious right off the bumper-to-bumper humanity that pervades the rush hour on congested freeways.
For those grieving the loss of a loved one, there are many coping skills that mourning people can tap into. Especially with the holiday season upon us, this time can be a tender, reflective period with remembrances of gatherings in the past. It is a vulnerable time for the bereaved.
- Find a grief counselor and/or grief support group. Feelings of depression and anxiety can co-occur alongside grief. You want to have support in place to process any traumatic experience connected with the loss, as well as having a nonjudgmental helping professional to help you share your story. Being witnessed and heard is so therapeutic.
- Make plans to be with family/friends who can comfort you unconditionally as a shoulder to cry on or a companion to an event.
- Be ok with bowing out of obligations or expectations if grief is washing over you so intensely that you need your space and autonomy. It’s really ok to let the tears flow in the privacy of your home or in the presence of loving and nurturing supporters. Just as you may want to honor special traditions in remembrance of your loved one (if it comforts you), you may also want to completely change up the routine and travel out of town for the holidays. And that’s ok.
- Everyone grieves differently — it is a cyclical experience (not linear). Emotions such as sadness, anger, wistfulness, shock/disbelief, and acceptance all filter in and out of a person’s grief experience.
- Practice maximum self-care : back to the basics of good sleep, nutrition, hydration, exercise. Take your vitamins and minerals. Grieving people have lowered immune systems.
- Take time to remember your loved one, whether at a gravesite, an altar, a place in nature, before a candle. Tap into your spirituality such that you are comforted and can have a “dialogue” with your loved one. Bring out pictures and favorite foods. Share stories.
- Know that every cycle of grief allows a layer of emotion to be expressed. Every cycle brings just a little bit more comfort, release, and less burden. Walking through the grief brings you to the other side. The only way out of it is through it.
- Create. Draw a picture, paint, sculpt, sing, dance, write…a tribute to your loved one or symbol of what that person represented to you.
- Release. We hold emotion and tension in our bodies. Meditate, yoga, massage, reiki, accupuncture, reflexology all help release “held” tension in the body.
- Read about grief and know you are not alone. The intensity will pass in time. You will always remember, but it will not be held as a trauma so long as you give yourself permission to feel, express, process, and reprocess with competent and compassionate helping professionals and supporters.
Recommended Books on Grief: (General/ for Adults):
How to Go on Living When Someone You Love Dies by Therese Rando
On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief through the Five Stages of Loss by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross
Healing After Loss: Daily Meditations for Working through Grief by Martha Whitmore Hickman
Living when a Loved One has Died by Earl Grollman
When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times by Pema Chodron
Dia de Muertos: A Day to Honor Your Ancestors: Family Search Blog – Author Jose Lopez (10/31/2018): https://www.familysearch.org/blog/en/dia-de-muertos-honor-your-ancestors/?fbclid=IwAR3wWvhIW_-Wjewv5PV-1L_dYMNRGM5SabQS0UH7od2eo2GN6jltdFhjL8E
“We share stories because we want to be remembered.” Jose Lopez, Dia de los Muertos