Home > Death, Introvert, Los Angeles, Love > Weekend Coffee Share: Dia de los Muertos

Weekend Coffee Share: Dia de los Muertos

If we were having coffee, I’d tell you how glad I was to get away from my house for a little.

Feeling slightly abashed, I’d explain I believe it’s possible to have too much of a good thing, and that this fact is very much related to my recent quiet.

Once upon a time, I’d explain, I traveled light. I never wanted to have more than enough possessions that would fit tidily in one or two rooms, which oceans of space between them.

And then? Then I met my future husband. He sees empty space as a challenge: It must be overcome at any and all costs! I’d clear up a little pocket of space only to come back the next day and find a heap of boxes or papers or knick-knacks instead. Add to that a little kid and the space I yearned for was gone.

I’d tell you how I finally stopped fighting it after a couple of years. Fighting it wasn’t changing the end result; it was just making me tired and grumpy. I learned how to make space other ways. I made a blog, and that blog was my space. It was where I went to have the world be as small or expansive as I needed it to be at any moment. If the physical space around me was cluttered, well, so what? I had this space, and it was mine.

And then my husband started a blog to pass time while between gigs. I was excited, and I remain excited, but I once again felt his clutter crowding out the safety of having just a little space that was only mine. He’d write his posts on my computer at my desk, and leave remnants of his visits behind. Both my physical space and my virtual space were eroded. Apart from ten minutes of drive time between my office and my youngest son’s daycare, I had neither space nor time just to sit quietly apart from the clutter.

I felt uneasy, but didn’t know how to name the feeling until I was put in a bullpen at work.

I finally had a name for what I was feeling: crowded.

(Wouldn’t it be nice if we always just immediately understood what was bugging us? I’d ask. Problems are so much easier to solve if we can figure out what the heck they are!)

Once I understood, I made space by stepping away from my blog.

I talked with my husband about what I was doing and why. He understood, of course. We’re married because we do understand each other, and love each other deeply despite being very different people.

He’s been back at work for a week and a half. I can feel my space growing, and with it, an openness to a little conversation.

You look at me like you’re ready to get in a word, so I pause. I promise I’m almost done. This was the long, long intro for what I really wanted to talk to you about: Dia de los Muertos. It just didn’t feel right diving into that without explaining why I’ve ignored your invitations the last few weeks. It wasn’t about you. That’s not only a bad break-up line. It’s the truth.

Last year I visited Hollywood Forever’s Dia de los Muertos celebration with my family. I’d heard of the holiday, but had no idea what it was.

I was immediately captivated. In day to day life, people often subtly and overtly tell you to set grief aside and learn to live without your deceased loved ones. In contrast, Dia de los Muertos welcomes back and celebrates those loved ones in a way that makes my heart to soar.

Instead of setting aside loved ones for momentary, random pangs of missing, people were making space for–and with–them. The love was palpable, so much so that I marveled I couldn’t reach out and feel it with my fingertips.

I’d rub my arms as I told you this. Goosebumps, I’d tell you. The love is that strong!

I’ve been looking forward to Hollywood Forever’s 2015 celebration since I left the 2014 one.

Yesterday I visited with my boys. The visit was neither quiet nor mellow, with two loud, opinionated future menfolk running circles around me, but I could feel the love–and the welcoming–as powerfully this year as last.


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I’d tell you how it filled my heart to see my boys standing side by side examining altars of deceased but still very much present loved ones. How I grinned when Littler J stopped and stared at a couple sitting quietly by their altar, all kinds of questions he couldn’t articulate running through his brain. “Do you have a question, little one?” asked the lady gently.

Li’l D whispered that he had a question. He’s usually too shy to ask, but he was invigorated by her welcome.

“Ask it!” I encouraged.

“I have a Dia de los Muertos book but it’s at school where my teacher will read it and people have faces like yours and also there’s special bread and we’ll be celebrating at my school!” exploded out of him.

“So what’s your question, sweetheart?” I asked him.

The lady smiled before speaking softly. “I think he just wanted to share.” Li’l D nodded his confirmation. “Thank you for sharing.”

We moved onward, returning to the first altar we’d visited. While it was only half-built, I’d asked the people building it what it was for. The man had explained it was for so many Mexican lives lost to crime without attention or resolution from the Mexican government.

“You know the 43 students who were kidnapped?” I nodded.

“The government did nothing. Nothing! So we gathered all those students’ photographs, and we will be putting them all around our altar. Our Catrina will have her heart suspended in front of her, because it is lost as long as nothing is done.”


I’d tell you how, after a full year, I still don’t have words for this celebration of death that’s actually a celebration of life, but that I needn’t find the right words if you explore it for yourself, next weekend or next year. I think you’ll feel what I mean.

I’d tell you how right it was to watch my sons playing in a cemetery, and to be reminded how intimately interwoven are death and life. Why be afraid of either? the painted faces and sugar skulls and altares ask without words. Why are you so sure that death is the end, when you can see all around you that death is no end at all?



  1. October 25, 2015 at 10:05 am

    Having our own space is important. Many people talk about “man caves,” but women need caves too, especially introverts. After having many of my home spaces encroached upon, I drew the line and confiscated a room for my work. Of course, the door frequently flies open because, hey, Mom’s in there. It’s not like she’s working. 😉 But that’s okay. It’s still my space. Hubs has his own. And this is what makes for happy mixing. 🙂

    • October 25, 2015 at 10:12 am

      Oh, oh, oh, I hoped you would comment! I love your insights as a fellow introvert.

      Yes to “woman caves”! Right now we’re in a smallish space, but I hope we’ll soon enough move into a home (perhaps our own, versus a rental?) with a little extra space for an office. Heck, I’d even take a closet and adapt it as needed. I did it my first year of law school, when I rented someone’s living room but needed a quiet, separate space.

      For now, I might even start retreating to the laundry room for space, something that hadn’t occurred to me before. (The good in gathering and getting mindshare, even as an introvert!)

      Thanks for your insight and affirmation. I’m grateful!

      • October 25, 2015 at 10:17 am

        Ah, you’re right. Smaller homes make private spaces difficult. But as you show, it can be done. Back when the hubs and I lived in tiny apartments during my training (and before kids), we had to make do with man- and woman-“corners.” That worked too until we could do better.

  2. October 25, 2015 at 10:58 am

    I’ve always liked cemeteries. I haven’t found them to be scary, but s calming place. I often went to the cemetery by the campus on Friday nights to calm down and find peace.

    • October 25, 2015 at 11:18 am

      I didn’t find them scary, but I did like what I perceived as their connection to things dark and sinister. Now I like them for totally different reasons, as someone who feels like a totally different person from then.

      (I liked that cemetery, too. Someday, I think I’ll take D for ice cream at Prince Puckler’s and walk through all his many questions with them. Maybe we could go together, you, your boys and us. ♥)

  3. October 25, 2015 at 11:05 am

    “Wouldn’t it be nice if we always just immediately understood what was bugging us? I’d ask. Problems are so much easier to solve if we can figure out what the heck they are!”

    Whew. Ain’t that the truth.

    Glad your husband’s back at work (that’s been a source of stress for both of you, from what you’ve been saying), and VERY glad your space is starting to feel a bit more open!

    • October 25, 2015 at 11:21 am

      Thank you! Another bonus is that he loves his work and is glad to be back. He’s exhausted because the days are long, but so, so glad to be fully back in the swing of things. And the last couple of weeks have brought a bunch of new learning and experiences, too, making it even more exciting than simply being back. There’s a whole lotta goodness from it, and from being–bit by bit–back to savoring our minutes together.

      (I’m also working on tidying my desk, and letting all the boys know it’s no longer to be used as a miscellaneous-item storage space. Lots of little changes that add up to some bigtime good!)

  4. October 25, 2015 at 12:15 pm

    Death is something that my culture and it seems your very similar one does badly. Very, very badly.
    We block and bury grief, and I believe by so doing, disrespect the people (those very important people), who have left us. If we loved them, it seems right and proper to me that we should remember them and acknowledge that our world has been diminished when they left. And mourn for that and them. It isn’t a question of getting over grief, but of finding a way to live with it.
    Another moving post. Thank you. And I NEED my alone time.

    • October 26, 2015 at 4:17 am

      “It isn’t a question of getting over grief, but of finding a way to live with it.” Exactly!

      The warmth and welcoming of these days has pretty dramatically changed how I feel about death, in a very freeing way. I’m already looking forward to 2016, and more immediately, my son’s school celebration.

      Halloween was my favorite holiday through law school, when Thanksgiving took over as my siblings and I creater our own traditions of thanks apart from any greater history. Now, now this is it for me.

  5. October 25, 2015 at 12:16 pm

    Love, love, love this post for so many reasons. I love what you say about space. It’s so true. After weeks of Nick prepping and taking multiple tests, I finally have a little space/time to breathe and write, where I’m not the single mom who’s also force-feeding her husband (who told her that he lost three pounds while she was gone because he forgot he needed more than coffee, and would only remember to eat when it was dinner time when she was gone)… I finally have a little space to write and feel human. But you say all that with more eloquence and understanding! I think I’ll try to get the kids to one of the Dia de los Muertos events here in Portland. Thank you for sharing! Love you and your words so much.

    • October 26, 2015 at 4:24 am

      Nick texted me last week about his testing. I told him it sounded like the purpose od these tests was more to gauge commitment than to test knowledge aquisition. How can knowledge be meaningfully acquired like that?!

      Much as I love L.A., I wish I were closer to you and Mads so we coukd help “failover” each others’ loads in these especially demanding times. This weekend was rough for me, and I wished y’all were here so I could jet to urgent care without having to juggle a couple of kids there … which didn’t happen, because no. I kept it together, but man, am I looking forward to days where there’s more calm and less merely keeping it together.

      I hope you do get the kids to a DdlM event there, for it’s a lovely experience! ♡

      • October 26, 2015 at 7:19 am

        Ugh, Deb, I wish in moments like that, that you were closer too! I’m so sorry this weekend was rough. 😦

  6. Deb
    October 25, 2015 at 12:52 pm

    Here’s to space, and finding the time to enjoy it, embrace it, and heal from its presence.

  7. October 25, 2015 at 12:58 pm

    Thanks for sharing the bits about dia de los muertos. A celebration of life indeed.

    • October 26, 2015 at 4:26 am

      I found myself a little sad it was over for the year, when I was then reminded myself that only the event is over for the year. The days themselves are still ahead.

  8. October 25, 2015 at 1:23 pm

    I totally get the space issue, I’m the same way. My husband likes his space too, but he collects so much stuff! Fortunately he keeps it all tidy but half the attic and all of the basement is his. Personally I would prefer living out of a suitcase. After raising 3 children to adulthood I can advise, get rid of as much as possible as often as possible because it just keeps adding up and they don’t take most of it with them when they move out.

    I was also just talking with someone about needing to understand Dia de los Muertos better because my daughter married into a Mexican lineage. Thanks for sharing.

    • October 26, 2015 at 4:32 am

      I, too, would love to live out of a suitcase! I managed to get it down to three boxes before becoming in a family way. Those were largely photos, notebooks, letters and other sentimental things. Most else can be replaced … and has been for me, as I’ve moved across the Pacific and back twice, in addition to my north-south moves along the West Coast.

      I think D’s desire to keep everything he ever touches will help us actively move some things from the house. Our space can’t physically accommodate that! If ee didn’t have to work hard to cull there, we’d probably be in trouble as stuff pushed out people. 🙂

  9. October 25, 2015 at 1:45 pm

    I’m a big cemetery-lover and a little envious of your Day of the Dead experience!
    I can also relate to feeling crowded. I tend to shut down during those periods.

    • November 1, 2015 at 5:24 am

      Me, too. I can present an upbeat facade despite wanting to retreat somewhere for days, but … it gets harder and harder the longer I have to maintain the facade.

  10. October 25, 2015 at 3:35 pm

    Even in our small introspection sometimes we cannot find what is dancing on our nerve. Stepping away is sometimes what is needful to find that word that describes our loss or need. It is good you have between the two of you an understanding at a heart level, rather than a competition.

    I have always loved cemeteries. I have wandered old ones in Europe, Asia and here in the US. I believe strongly we should find find ways to celebrate life including the lives of those who have passed on. The Dia de los Muertos celebrations are wonderful, there are many here in Texas.

    I don’t know if you knew, but one of my big tattoo’s is a female sugar skull on my left thigh, she is surrounded by flowers, mostly those those with healing properties. She is on the thigh where I lost feeling after my injuries. She represents my victory over death

    • November 1, 2015 at 5:34 am

      Your “understanding at a heart level” comment just jogged loose some memories of my childhood. I’m smiling as I write that, though sometimes I think things like, “Why do I even have to explain why this-or-that’s important?! Ugh!” I’m much more often grateful to be married to an openhearted extrovert who doesn’t … prioritize organization. There’s so much good in it; different freedoms and flexibility.

      You know, I don’t think I saw–or understood I was seeing–any while I lived in South Korea and Japan. I do know the very somber feeling of Hiroshima, appropriately, made it feel like a graveyard.

      I love that you have a sugar skull tattoo, and why you chose it. I’ve been considering getting a tattoo for a year or two, but haven’t landed on what I’d do. I’ll be thinking on this, in light of my growing love of the holiday begun today. To think I didn’t really know of it a year and a week ago! Now it fills me with love.

      • November 1, 2015 at 7:56 am

        I have 17 tattoos, each has a very specific meaning. Some are big and some are smaller. For me though, they are all huge. I wrote about them a while back, about what they mean. I think it was the first time I ever explained how they came about on my skin.

  11. October 25, 2015 at 3:37 pm

    Love the photos and your thoughts on Dia de los Muertos. There aren’t many celebrations of the holiday nearby, but I’d love to attend one of them someday. Until then, I enjoy the Halloween celebrations here. 🙂

    And I totally relate to feeling crowded…I need space and time alone, and they can be difficult to find.

    • November 1, 2015 at 5:35 am

      I texted my sisters a few weeks back and recommended they look for celebrations … knowing even as I typed that it’d be much harder for them to find than me! I wonder if they were able to find anything? I’ll text ’em today!

      Speaking of today, I’m scheduled to get a couple of hours today. Just me, a massage, and a horror movie! YES!

      • November 3, 2015 at 10:18 am

        Awesome—hope you enjoyed your time off. What film did you pick? We ended up watching a few classics—Great Pumpkin and Nightmare Before Christmas—before watching It Follows. Little Jedi was with bio dad this weekend, but the weather was gross, so we were inside. A good night anyway, though.

        • November 3, 2015 at 10:39 am

          I didn’t end up making to a movie, but I’d meant to catch Crimson Peak. I might watch it with my sister when she visits. 🙂

  12. NotAPunkRocker
    October 26, 2015 at 7:48 am

    I completely get you on the crowded feeling. I’ve backed off on internet in general on weekends because that’s the only time I can try to carve out some space it seems.

    I love how the Lil’ones acted at the festivities. ❤

    • November 1, 2015 at 5:38 am

      Hear that! I deactivated the blog’s FB page and (temporarily) deleted other accounts to really feel the space that created. It helped much more greatly than I could ever have anticipated, and I think/suspect/hope I’ll now be able to identify this feeling sooner in the future, the better to make that space earlier and feel less distressed.

  13. October 28, 2015 at 3:23 pm

    I know what you mean about space – and also how hard it is to find sometimes. A beautiful introduction to the rest of your post though. I never knew about this celebration until one of my friends was killed in Mexico (another sad crime for which justice was never found). Now every year my Facebook feed is filled with memories of her as people celebrate her life on Dia de lots muertos.

    • November 1, 2015 at 5:39 am

      I am so sorry to hear of her loss, but so delighted to hear how she is remembered.

      My only exposure to Dia de los Muertos before was via a few minutes in the movie Boys on the Side. I loved that movie so much, it seems strange I never inquired further into that piece of it. I suppose that means I’ll have to watch again and see what else I now understand about the movie. 🙂

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