Honoring the Dead

Today is November 1 – Dia de los Muertos. It is also coincidently the anniversary of the death of our family icon, Edward Leighton Sr. commonly known as “Pop”.  Our family is no stranger to loss and unlike Pop and our grandmother Sophie, the family members we have lost have been far too young.

For the past few years, I have participated in my own tradition of honoring these lost ones. My father is included in this group. Of course, the loss of my father was devastating. I was not prepared to mourn, to let go. Today is a different day. I can truly celebrate my loved ones and what each one meant to me.

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Last night in typical Halloween fashion, the hubby and I watched horror flicks. In one particular movie, everyone was so terrified of death you would think they were going to keel over dead from fear itself. I no longer identify with this particular fear. I have, in the past suffered from panic attacks and so I understand it well. But that is not part of my life anymore. I have learned to accept, even appreciate all of life’s terms. Everyone will encounter these seasons from conception through birth, growing up, maturing, and finally death.

I used to think that Day of the Dead Celebrations were morbid. One might call this “contempt prior to investigation”. So I decided to take the time and do my own research.  Yes, there are some who have superstitions but beyond that is a deeply spiritual practice. It is a celebration as a way of remaining in contact with the memory and spirits of our dead. Spirits being “the nonphysical part of a person that is the seat of emotions and character; the soul”.[1]

It is a celebration of love and remembrance of family and ancestors who have passed over. So this day is one to participate in love, not fear.

Many set up alters and give offerings. I have a book with pictures that I set out and then light a candle beside it. Some honor the graves of their dead by cleaning and decorating them. There are those who hold all-night vigils at their loved one’s gravesites. Stories are always shared and appreciated.

And then there is the fun part; the making and exchanging sugar skulls and sweets, putting on ceremonial skull makeup and adorning oneself with flowers in the hair. Some communities hold festivals and parades.


This “holiday” has been celebrated over 4000 years and is not just a “Mexican Holiday” as most commonly believed. It is honored throughout Latin America and in many other countries.  With all this talk about cultural appropriation, I believe that everyone can revere this holiday in their own particular way. The falling leaves of autumn represent dying and of letting go. Autumn is a season that all share, so let’s just start there.

Today, however you choose to, take a moment or the full day to honor your loved ones who have crossed over.

Do not stand at my grave and weep

I am not there; I do not sleep.

I am a thousand winds that blow,

I am the diamond glints on snow,

I am the sun on ripened grain,

I am the gentle autumn rain.

When you awaken in the morning’s hush,

I am the swift uplifting rush

Of quiet birds in circled flight.

I am the soft stars that shine at night.

Do not stand at my grave and cry,

I am not there; I did not die.

– mary elizabeth frye – 1932

  1. http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/

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