day of the dead

I was busy in the kitchen one night chopping onions and preparing dinner. My mind was wandering like it typically does when I’m doing little tasks. Kate and Ryder were plopped on the bar stools busy with homework and a snack. The house was fairly quiet for this time of day, the only noise were vegetables sizzling in the skillet.

“Hey mom, do you know what this means? Dia de los Muertos,” Kate spoke slowly, struggling but determined to pronounce each word correctly.

“Um. No, I don’t,” I replied. I knew she was speaking Spanish, but I took four years of French in high school and two years in college. I don’t know a lick of Spanish, except if I want to count to ten.

“It means Day of the Dead,” Kate said with a smile.

A little shocked, I asked what she was talking about. We went from a peaceful evening cooking, eating and homework to talking about death. We talk about Jackson all the time in our house, but I don’t use the word “dead”. It hits too close to home, so the words out of her mouth threw me.

Kate shared that they were learning about it in art class. She didn’t elaborate, and I didn’t ask questions, but in that moment I was definitely questioning what and who is teaching her about this, and more importantly why.

For the next several weeks, she walked around the house randomly saying “Dia de los Muertos.” She smiles when she says it. I don’t know if that’s because she can sense the hair standing up on my body when I hear it, or if she is truly enjoying the ability to speak another language. Every time the words come out of her mouth, I think the art teacher has lost her mind. What does this day have to do with art and why is she talking about death with these grade schoolers?

What I wasn’t understanding at the time was the depth of this lesson.

The way the teacher explained it in class was “Dia de Muertos is a Mexican celebration of those that have come before us. We discussed how this day remembers happy moments and memories of special people and animals in our lives.” They are integrating art and culture, which is pretty great.

Last week a friend questioned me about Kate’s artwork for Dia de los Muertos hanging in the halls at school. Unsure of what she was talking about, I had to investigate. This is what I found.

skeleton drawing

At the bottom, it reads “In memory of Jackson Reese”.

My heart sank, yet it sang.

I hate, with all of my being, what Kate has endured in her short childhood. What should be filled with innocence and peace was shattered at a ripe age. She has seen the absolute worst, but her little heart has never faltered.

While her classmates remembered grandparents, aunts, uncles and pets, she proudly remembered her brother whom she loves so much. It’s all just too hard sometimes for me. But the beauty of it is that she is remembering him. She’ll never forget. I hope that as she chose each color, and with every stroke of the paint brush, she remembered a special moment with Jackson, celebrated him, and maybe even laughed at a funny memory the two shared.

After seeing this masterpiece, I was curious to learn a little more about what this holiday entailed. What I read was that on November 1 and 2 the Mexican culture honors loved ones who have passed on. I’m familiar with All Saints Day, but that’s a solemn Catholic tradition. For Day of the Dead, it’s believed that the gates of heaven open at midnight on October 31 and the spirits of all deceased children are allowed to reunite with their families for twenty-four hours. On November 2, the adult spirits join them. It’s considered a celebration and is a festive time with lots of food and decorations.

Then I got to thinking…how wonderful would that be if I got just 24 hours more with Jackson. What would I do? What would I say to him? I don’t think we would have a party. I think I would want to just sit and be as a family. All together again. We would watch him interact with the brother he never met. We would talk and laugh and make new memories together.

If only I had those twenty-four hours.

But I don’t.

It’s not going to stop me from celebrating, though. Ryder and I went to the grocery store yesterday and picked out some flowers we thought Jackson would like. We found a vase, cut the stems and placed them perfectly on the mantle.

Just in case my little boy does stop by.