Stories related to other people, cultures and societies responses to loss and grief.

retro valentine

Those Valentine Hearts? It’s Not Personal

“This is a day to write smiles, kindness, empathy and hope on the walls of life.”  ~Jean Tubridy

It’s not personal. Really. All those red hearts, candy sentiments and images of perfect love are not meant to push you into more grief. They are world symbols evolved from traditions, stories, and religious celebrations into the romanticized Hallmark and bejeweled occasion we recognize today. Valentine’s Day has become an easy reason to openly and directly show love, beginning with traditions shared with our youngest children, parent to child and friend to friend.

 “The day was first associated with romantic love in the circle of Geoffrey Chaucer in the High Middle Ages, when the tradition of courtly love flourished. In 18th-century England, it evolved into an occasion in which lovers expressed their love for each other by presenting flowers, offering confectionery, and sending greeting cards (known as “valentines”). In Europe, Saint Valentine’s Keys are given to lovers ‘as a romantic symbol and an invitation to unlock the giver’s heart’, as well as to children, in order to ward off Saint Valentine’s Malady. Valentine’s Day symbols that are used today include the heart-shaped outline, doves, and the figure of the winged Cupid. Since the 19th century, handwritten valentines have given way to mass-produced greeting cards.”      ~Wikipedia

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Day of the Dead Dia de los Muertos

Wake up! It’s Day of the Dead

Día de los Muertos Celebrates Life

Each year on November 1 and 2 a cultural traditional brings families together in a festival of honor. These are the Day of the Dead: Día de los Innocetes (innocents, children) and Día de los Muertos (deceased, adults).

The primarily Mexican and Latin American ritual is steeped in history. Décor, activities and feast reinforce that our loved ones are to be honored, remembered and remain spiritually alive. From its Pre-columbian roots, Day of the Dead rises from Aztec and Roman Catholic beliefs. Because it is an annual event, the ongoing ritual means death is more readily seen as a natural aspect of the life cycle.

“Assured that the dead would be insulted by mourning or sadness, Día de los Muertos celebrates the lives of the deceased with food, drink, parties, and activities the dead enjoyed in life. Día de los Muertos recognizes death as a natural part of the human experience, a continuum with birth, childhood, and growing up to become a contributing member of the community. On Día de los Muertos, the dead are also a part of the community, awakened from their eternal sleep to share celebrations with their loved ones.” ~National Geographic

Households and communities may each have slightly differing traditions in their locale. Events might be held at the cemetery, community center or homes. But what is in common is that Día de los Muertos activities “encourage visits by the souls, so that the souls will hear the prayers and the comments of the living directed to them.” (Wikipedia). Sharing of stories, feast and offerings, grave and headstone upkeep are all part of the rituals that may go on for up to three days.

The cost for food, drink and offerings can be expensive for rural indigenous households.  Some families spend over two month’s earnings to honor their deceased. “They believe that happy spirits will provide protection, good luck and wisdom to their families. Ofrenda [altar] building keeps the family close.” (Mexican Sugar Skull)

Here are some of the most often noted symbols and activities found at Día de los Muertos celebrations:

  • Ofrenda. (altars) Small, personal altars honoring one person. Ofrendas have flowers, candles, food, drinks, photos, and personal mementos of the person being remembered. Ofrendas often include religious statues and pictures. They can be very elaborate.
  • Marigolds.  It is thought the orange color of Mexican marigolds help attract the soul to the offering table. Buckets of flowers are left with the altar, or used to decorate the tables and displays.
  • Day of the Dead CatrinaOrchids. White orchids are the flower given in honor of children who have died. Día de los Innocetes may also be noted as Día de los Angelitos, Day of the Little Angels, on November 1, when the children are allowed to visit their families for 24 hours beginning midnight October 31.
  • Gifts. Food and gifts that the loved one enjoyed are part of the altar and festivities. This includes toys, trinkets and candies. Pillows and blankets may be left at the ofrenda so souls can rest after their long journey.  Tequilia and mezcal may be left for the adults. The food is for the souls, so although eaten by the living, it is thought to be devoid of nutritional value.
  • Catrinas. The popular dressed skeleton figure is highly associated with Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico. The icon originated from a satirical etching by Mexican printmaker Jose Guadalupe Posada, circa 1910. La Calavera Catrina (Elegant Skull) depicts a female skeleton dressed only in a hat befitting the upper class outfit of a European of her time.
  • Calavera (skull) Decorated sugar skulls  and chocolate skulls are also distinctly recognized on Día de los Muertos. The skull may be given as a gift to both living and dead. The recipient’s name is often inscribed on the forehead of the skull. The sweet candy is a balance to the bitterness of death.
  • Papel Picado. Hand cut paper banners have been traced back to the 18th century used for religious festivals to decorate the streets. Day of the Dead papel picado usually depict happy scenes (of skeletons) to embellish the surroundings.

Story is always at the heart of Día de los Muertos celebrations as family and friends write poems, share anecdotes, or even mocking epitaphs. Through laughter and joy, the symbols presented in this shared tradition honor the life of loved ones passed and even what the loved one loved about life. Today, Day of the Dead events are becoming community events beyond Mexico borders as a way to share heritage, culture and of course, honor the deceased loved ones of all ages. Check your local community calendars to see if you can join in this rich and inviting tradition.

 

Navigating Grief Gift of Story

Giving the Gift of Story

I read a post on a children’s grief website the other day that asked if anyone knew an appropriate memorial gift or product. Yes, I thought: the gift of story.

I thought about this over a couple of days because the first days of loss are different than a few weeks later. I thought about everything I’ve come across  – clinical, academic, experiential, personal, and anecdotes from bereaved – on the early days of loss and grief. I realized there are  recurring themes:  the need to not feel alone; the role of memories which can be bittersweet, yet comforting; and, how the blur of shock can render time and thoughts invisible or forgotten.
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Navigating Grief Balloon Release after Loss

Is it Hello or Goodbye?

Pioneer Orchard Park in Ft. Steilacoom, WA is a small, grassy knoll overlooking an amazing panoramic Puget Sound view. There is a big, old fashion wooden swing that could seat four adults facing two and two comfortably. On the opposite side of the park is a large platform stage, its short white fence marking the edge between earth and water. It calls you to come peer outward and dream. I can image this as a perfect spot for a wedding.
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