By Susan Dromey Heeter
John Donne wrote, “Death be not proud.” Donne did not write, “Death be not fun, death be not colorful or vibrant, death be not a feast of memories.” Obviously, Donne was not Mexican.
This week’s Joyful Musings arrives alive and well from Dover’s Cinco de Mayo Restaurant, a Mexican restaurant currently adorned with all things celebrating el Dia de Los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead.
This day, not to be confused with Halloween, is one in which the sweet sorrow of acceptance of death is celebrated, where memories come alive, where those who’ve gone are remembered sweetly, lovingly, sometimes even comically.
Upon arriving to Cinco de Mayo, my eyes are drawn to the table adorned with Dia de los Muertos accoutrements. This is an altar brightly festooned with calaveras, skulls in yellows and oranges, blues and greens. A vest is adorned with La Virgen de Guadalupe, or Mary, the Virgen of Guadalupe. There are candles, velas as they are known in Spanish, And then, there is Catrina.
Catrina is the “grand dame of death.’ She is tall, elegant, a figure not to be feared rather, to be revered. Catrina epitomizes the Mexican tendency to laugh at death but not to mock it, to find the sweet sorrow in losing a loved one as well as to revel in the acceptance and glory of both this life and the next.
Catrina’s countenance seems to suggest, somewhat comically, “What, you think you’re not going to go? You’ve got another think coming, Buster”
Let’s face it, we’re all going to move on; Catrina thrives in truly embracing this fact.
When my amiga, Anna, joins us for lunch at Cinco de Mayo, she will revel in all things Dia de Los Muertos. Anna is directly from Mexico City and delights in sharing her culture, her experiences with Catrina, with the Mexican view of death.
On the wall are names of those who have passed, little shout outs to those we’d love to have at our table. Mothers, fathers, cats, dogs, cousins and friends’ names adorn the wall. It is Anna who has organized this display and I love her for it. Her passion for Dia de Los Muertos is as colorful as the skulls and candles.
I write my mother’s name and put her up on this wall, inviting all to think of “Nancy.” I save her a seat at lunch and order her extra guacamole and chips. She loves to eat, loves food; she’s happy to join us. I can hear her laugh. The Mexican celebration of Dia de Los Muertos invites the dead to visit; spirits return in delightful, not frightening ways. These ghosts are lovely and friendly. And come only once a year.
No doubt your life has been touched by death. All of our lives have and will be…it’s just the way. And, of course, it’s sad. But if you have the chance to celebrate Dia de Los Muertos, please do. It’s a lovely way to re-visit friends and family, a lovely chance to allow memories to come back to life.
And death, be not proud, be colorful and vibrant and remind us of lives gone before. Good to see you, Nance…hope you enjoyed the guac.
Happy Dia de Los Muertos from Cinco de Mayo in Dover…a joyful place to muse.
Susan Dromey Heeter, a writer from Dover who recently let her hair go au natural white, debuts her new column “Joyful Musings” at InDepthNH.org. Dromey Heeter is a secondary Spanish Teacher at Dover High School and the mother of two teenage daughters. Writing has been her passion since her English majoring days at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. Dromey Heeter has lived in The Netherlands, Alaska and currently basks in all things New England, including the frigid winters. An avid swimmer, Dromey Heeter’s great passion is to bring back body surfing as most children have no idea how to ride waves without ridiculous boogie boards. She also writes about thrift shopping and all things frugal in a column called “Budget Vogue” for the New Hampshire Union Leader.