My husband drove me to town today to pick up the pies. He let me off at the curb and circled back for me as there was no parking. I hobbled into a small local restaurant known for their amazing baked goods, among them: roasted pumpkin pie with mascarpone whipped cream.
I happen to be known at this restaurant (not surprising)! The owner noticed my bright pink ankle support and unusually slow, wobbly gait.
“Falling is so scary,” she said. “Glad we could do the pies for you. Now I’ll get someone to help you carry them.”
A young man appeared at my side with the pies in his hands. He waited until my husband arrived on the street in front of us and wished me a Happy Thanksgiving. I wanted to thank him by name, but I did not know it. He introduced himself as “Matthew.” I assured him that I would not forget that name.
I happen to know the derivation of his name. “Matthew” is from the Hebrew and it means: Gift of the Lord. It was my beloved brother’s name and he was most certainly a gift.
I felt my eyes fill with grateful tears. It’s been sixteen years since Matt died but he is always with me. I will forever be thankful for him.
Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) is a misunderstood holiday celebrated in Mexico, and in my home, on November 2. Given the timing of the holiday and the macabre imagery and costumes, people assume it’s simply “Mexican Halloween.” But, the meaning of this holiday is so much greater.
In the year 2000, my 35-year-old brother was diagnosed with an incurable form of cancer and I did what I always do when presented with a major life challenge; I researched and read about the topic of death. Books have always been my saviors. During the toughest year of my life, as I watched Matt die, the accumulated wisdom of others brought me comfort. It was during this time that I learned about Day of the Dead.
The holiday takes its origins from the Aztecs and was celebrated around the end of summer like Halloween. With the arrival of Spanish conquistadors, Catholic influence led to the combination of the holiday with All Saints’ and All Souls’ Day. Dia De Los Muertos follows the same two-day structure. In the Catholic tradition, All Saints’ Day calls us to reflect upon how we should live; All Souls’ Day is a celebration of those we’ve loved and lost. In the Mexican tradition, November 1 is the day to remember the loss of children and November 2 is the day to remember adults who have left us. The most important aspect of the holiday is the belief that the spirits of the dead join the living for the celebration.
In preparation for the party, altars are created that contain remembrances and offerings to our departed loved ones. (Sugar skulls are often included for children and alcohol for adults. You may have noticed KAH tequila in my display.) I love arranging my tribute each year and I love talking about my altar to visitors in my home. Those who are represented are gone but not forgotten; that truism is comforting to me.
My grandmother, Rose Carmella Bartucci. She had a big heart and memories of her make me smile. My daughter never knew her, but her middle name and nickname (Rosebud) are in her honor.
My brother, Matt. I miss you so much.
My father-in-law Jim. My husband inherited all your best traits and my daughter adored you.
Bart, my faithful four-legged companion. The pink shed isn’t quite the same without you.
During the time that my brother was sick and following his death, I often felt very alone in my grief. It’s not easy or natural to speak of death and dying in our culture, but I believe very strongly that we should. What better way to start a conversation than by bringing the departed back into your living room?
I’ll end this now as it’s time to toast my loved ones.
“My little dog—a heartbeat at my feet.”― Edith Wharton
I’m going to miss the little heartbeat at my feet. It’s been three days since Bart died in my arms, but I’m still looking for him. He followed me everywhere, and there’s no substitute for that. (Heaven forbid my husband should start following me around!) We have three dogs, but Bart was mine. He needed me.
Oh my goodness, how Bart loved it when he’d hear me grab the keys to my shed from the kitchen drawer. He’d run straight to the back door and wait to descend the stairs down to the pink shed. He had a well-worn bed (he liked to chew on the corners of it) under my desk and he’d patiently wait until the writing part of my day was over. Then I’d put him in my lap while I read or enjoyed a cup of tea in my cozy chair. Bart is featured in two of my of my most popular posts: See The Nose?! and My Dog’s Favorite Books.
I’m so glad to have had the absolute adoration of my cuddly Bart for nine years!