When I think of death, I recall Professor Dumbledore’s wise words, “death, is but the next great adventure,” and because of this and given the emotional roller coaster we get ourselves in, we cope with death differently from one person to the next. Due to my upbringing lacking any sort of hugs or even the words, I love you, my Mother set a standard on remaining neutral in severe situations. Specifically, during someone’s passing, for the sole purpose of being a much-needed pillar for those coping with death. I’ve had a handful of relatives pass away in the years I’ve been around, starting with my Great Grandfather around 2008, followed by a Great Uncle and Great Grandmother. Three years ago, my Uncle, then an Auntie a few months ago and well, guess you can say I’ve become well aware of my own mortality far more than I ever have. Perhaps because death is ever so closer with each passing.
Día de Muertos, a national holiday observed on the second of November, has been a staple my family has observed for as long as we’ve been around. I’m no expert, but from what I know, El Día de Muertos has its origins heavily rooted in Pre-Hispanic times. Where native peoples baked human shapes out of Amaranthus and covered them with juice of the tuna (prickly pear), to symbolize blood. Surprisingly however, not much is done on the actual holiday, assuming you’re in Oaxaca. As the city of Oaxaca shuts down and believe it or not, we do nothing throughout the day, since it’s a day to spend at home with your love ones. The majority of events and celebration of the holiday take place on the latter weeks of October with the main event, if you happen to live within the capital, take place on the thirty first of October at the Mictlancihuatl cemetery in the town of Santa Cruz Xoxocotlán. Fifteen minutes south of Downtown Oaxaca, the Mictlancihuatl cemetery hosts a wake the night of October thirty first, to symbolize and welcome our passed loved ones from the netherworld. My aforementioned Great Uncle is buried here.
The best part of the holiday, aside from the comparsas (parade) throughout the city and the free Mezcal, is of course the food, and the altar my Grandmother puts together in the spare room of her house two weeks prior from the second of November. To my surprise, my Grandmother had the foresight to plant marigold flowers at the plot of land we own close to the town of Zaachila. The altar is additionally decorated with photos of our passed loved ones, together with an abundance of marigold flowers or as we call them, Flor de Muerto. Other adornments include Pan de Muerto, Mezcal, fruits, nuts and as the day gets closer, tamales de frijol, tamales de mole and other dishes our passed loved ones enjoyed when they were alive. About a week before the second of November, the grave site of both my Grandfather and Uncle, they share the same site, is decorated with the same adornments found on our altar. The cemetery where both my Grandfather and Uncle are buried is located a few minutes away from Downtown Oaxaca, and like the Mictlancihuatl cemetery which hosts the wake on the thirty first of October, the San Juan cemetery hosts its wake during the day, on November first.
Located on the outskirts of downtown Oaxaca, the Panteón General serves as the resting place for the city’s eldest of residents, some going as far back as the 1800’s and some with unmarked graves. I must say, it’s one of the most beautiful cemeteries I’ve seen and well worth a visit while in Oaxaca. I learned a family cousin works at the at this cemeteryas a care taker, we didn’t not see him the day when we stopped by however. After I snapped a few photos of the cemetery, my Mom, cousin and I, decided to walk to El Zocalo for ice cream. As we walked on the sidewalk I noticed there was no shade, so I suggested we cross the street on the shaded side. As we walked, we heard a loud crash and saw a trailer hauling giant pipes, hit a palm tree, drag it, pulled power cables in its path, blowing out a transformer, causing it to fall to the ground, sending sparks everywhere. Needless to say, the truck driver did not stop, leaving serious damage behind him. We realized after the shock faded, the transformer the truck hit, would of been right above us had we not crossed the street.