Growing up an Anglo-American attending school with many Mexican-American friends, I still was inexcusably ignorant of the marvelous Día de los Muertos traditions. In my childhood ignorance, I was terrified of my classmates descriptions.
What I thought then to be frightening, chaotic and dark, I now know to be a joyous celebration of the human mosaic of a loved one’s life; and when an extended family member, a mom away from mom to me, my mentor, Mary Beth and champion to my being a lifelong-learner tragically passed, I found the beauty in the holiday for myself.
Even now nearly four years since Mary Beth’s sudden passing, I find comfort in the tiniest reminders of her. Seeing her handwriting in an old card written to me as I was juggling work, college and being newly married unleashes a flood of memories; all revolving around her believing in me and my educational endeavors more than I believed in myself or my ability to achieve them.
Then there’s the Halloween candy dish that I gave her just before she died. It reminds me of her childlike fascination with the holiday as she gave out full size candy bars and was cheerfully amused at the costume clad kids at her door. Now I see the holiday with similar wonder and anticipation because once a year, in the midst of fall as October turns to November, there’s consolation to my grief at the thought that she, steps back, from the other side of eternity to pay a visit to the many who love her and will never forget her.
Until we’re once again reunited, I’ll forever heed the many life lessons Mary Beth taught me. How she tirelessly cheered me on to my bachelor’s degree and said I had no other choice but to get my master’s degree too because she said that I would have so many more opportunities. Mary Beth also never stopped saying that I must write that children’s book I’ve fiddled with and dreamt of completing.Mary Beth listened, she laughed, she mentored me, she made no excuses, she loved me, and I would not be the woman or teacher I am without her. I miss her and never fully realized how much she anchored my life until she was gone. In a world adrift, we all need such an anchor.
Día de los Muertos is a marker, an anchor on my calendar to celebrate her and in celebrating the intricate mosaic of her life, I find the true beauty of the holiday and honor everything she taught me and inspired me to be. This year I will honor Mary Beth just as I’ve done since she was taken from us. I will visit her grave bearing a homemade bouquet of her favorite flowers, speak with her as if she never left, and I’ll know as I sit there staring at her name carved in granite that Mary Beth will be sitting with me.