Altering Altars

altarSurrounding the jardin and Parque Juarez will be altars on Day of the Dead for various celebrities, local and international.  Cemeteries will feature altars for folks with a more personal connection.  I highly encourage you to construct your own altar for loved ones you would enjoy inviting back, if only for the evening and way, way far away from wherever they are buried.

In Western cultures, when a loved one dies, your friends are often sympathetic and questioning of the manner of death so all your attention to focused on their demise rather than the totality of their lives.  Since most transitions are, at best, messy, death is not a pleasant, though the most recent, spot to focus on.

An altar, in addition to inviting the deceased back to visit with the lure of food and earthly delights, is a cathartic way to focus on all their life, the beginnings, joys, interests and hobbies that made them the person you love.  Though it may take some minor detours from the historically Mexican purpose of each altar’s level, there is no harm, and great joy, in personifying your efforts to your needs.

For me it was building an altar for my parents.  The first level of the altar focused on their beginnings.  For Mom, a central PA mountain town known only for the stench of Hades’ sulfur from the lumber mill that produced the Saturday Evening Post in its Norman Rockwell heyday.  Dad, being born on the kitchen table of a 5 story walk up in Harlem, featured photos of the then Harlem Renaissance.

mom altarNext came the level of what they enjoyed.  For Mom’s baby loving fascination that was easy, any image of Kate and Jake Plus Eight taken before the divorce sufficed.  My father preferred images of images of a drunken and disheveled Angie Dickinson during those 1970’s comedy roasts.  To each their own.

The food level was easy peasy, Dad adored a burger while my mother adored anything she didn’t cook herself.  A bottle of champagne for Mom gave her the home court advantage over my teetotaler father.

Physical things they enjoyed were easy to place.  There is the gravy bowl from my mother’s favorite china set (that she would be aghast to learn I use as a pen holder in my office).  For Dad I’ve the marbles he won as a kid in NYC placed in his favorite candy bowl.

Of course I included the mandatory paper flags (symbolizing the thin line between life and death), salt (for purification) but the fragrant allure locally grown marigolds were replaced by yellow gladiolas, my father’s favorite flower.

My point is, to see a loved one’s life from the get go represented with love, and not focused on the ending, is uplifting and immensely satisfying.  Light the candles and invite them back for a visit.  I promise you will feel better, and often surprised, in ways you could never have anticipated.