Nurturing creativity with art, animals, and science fiction

Tag: a virtual ofrenda

The Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery Alabama creates a much-needed space to think about and remember a profoundly formative period in U.S. history, a period whose echoes remain strong today. The emotional power of a memorial is hard to quantify, but it fills an essential human need. Photo by Audra Melton/New York Times/Redux.

Remembering matters

All Souls Day, because remembering matters

The words "All Souls Day" and "Los Días de los Muertos" float above a fabric pattern of dog "muertos," skeletons of dogs in the style of Mexican Day of the Dead skeletons.

Yesterday’s post questioned who “the saints” in All Saints Day are. And we found the answer varies.  Today, however, the festival is “for the rest of us.” This is because, no matter who we are or who we love, remembering matters.

Some traditions roll All Souls up with All Saints. Some particularly focus on the “innocent souls” of deceased babies or (a more recent take, which informed my choice of a background design for the header) animals.

Many Christian traditions see All Souls as the day to commemorate the “Faithful Departed.” In other practices, and in non-Christian traditions, we generally commemorate ancestors, departed friends and honored family members whom we personally remember during this season. In other words, All Souls is for “the rest of us.

Rontisha Brown holds a memorial candle and wears a memorial t-shirt for her brother Rahkeem at a New Year's memorial vigil for murder victims in Liberty City, FL in 2019. Photo by Maria Alejandra Cardona.
Rontisha Brown holds a memorial candle and wears a memorial t-shirt for her brother Rahkeem at a New Year’s memorial vigil for murder victims in Liberty City, FL in 2019. Photo by Maria Alejandra Cardona.

How do we commemorate a deceased person?

One way is with an album or display of photos or videos, or small items the person used or liked. I’ve seen many commemorative albums or slideshows at funerals or memorial services that would be equally appropriate for today

One of my most enduringly popular blog posts described the idea of creating a virtual ofrenda, patterned on the memorial displays set up for the Day(s) of the Dead ceremonies.

Some families create a memorial wall inside their home, where photos of deceased relatives or friends are displayed. There’s also a brisk trade done in memorial items, such as statues, candles, jewelry, Christmas tree ornaments, or other items. 

Some people create memorial T-shirts, especially the families of those who have died by violence. I’ve seen memorial statements placed on cars, too. Another way is to create a landmark. You could plant a tree or donate a memorial bench or other feature to a public area. Many create memorial websites.

Archaeologists excavated the bones of two women, along with shells, necklaces, and antlers, in a Middle Stone-Age grave in Téviec, Brittany.
Archaeologists excavated the bones of two women, along with shells, necklaces, and antlers, in a Middle Stone-Age grave in Téviec, Brittany.

Why create a memorial?

The need to create memorials for deceased family or group members is one of the oldest human impulses we know about. And that’s precisely because archaeological excavations of ancient graves imply so many memorial practices. The contents of ceremonial burials, have yielded many clues about early cultures. 

Throughout time, humans have had to grapple with the reality of death, since eventually it comes to us all. We deal with grief and loss in part by creating memorials. The creative and restorative process of a healthy grieving cycle is a painful, essential reality of our existence

The memorials may be different. The lengths and intensities of grief may vary. But the basic human need remains the same. It is embedded in the idea that to be forgotten is to truly be annihilated

Whether it be collective memory or individual memory, remembering matters. This is why we have funerals, create grave markers, hold vigils, and create public spaces such as the Holocaust Museum or The National Memorial for Peace and Justice

No matter how we remember, and no matter who . . . very simply, remembering matters.

The Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery Alabama creates a much-needed space to think about and remember a profoundly formative period in U.S. history, a period whose echoes remain strong today. The emotional power of a memorial is hard to quantify, but it fills an essential human need. Photo by Audra Melton/New York Times/Redux
The Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery Alabama creates a much-needed space to think about and remember a profoundly formative period in U.S. history, a period whose echoes remain strong today. The emotional power of a memorial is hard to quantify, but it fills an essential human need. Photo by Audra Melton/New York Times/Redux.

IMAGE CREDITS: Many thanks to Fabric.com’s “Timeless Treasures Day of the Dead” fabric design collection, which I used for the background of my header image for today. This one is called “Pups Black.” Many thanks to PressFrom and Maria Alejandra Cardona for the photo of Rontisha Brown memorializing her murdered brother Rahkeem Brown. The image of the ancient burial is courtesy of Red Ice. The Audra Melton photo from the National Memorial for Peace and Justice is from The New Yorker. I deeply appreciate you all!

A “virtual ofrenda” for All Saints Day

Today is All Saints Day, and the first of los Dias de los Muertos. This is the day for remembering deceased loved ones.

Who are you remembering today? I’d like to invite you to create a virtual ofrenda with me. The traditional Mexican ofrenda has three levels, or tiers, so ours should, too.

On the top tier, we identify and invite our loved one to our ofrenda, usually with a photo of the person. If you’re thinking of someone, picture them in your mind, or find a photo. Perhaps this poem can be our invitation:

On the middle tier, we try to make them feel welcome. On a typical ofrenda, this welcome often takes the form of food or drink that the person enjoyed–a favorite dessert, treat, or brew/vintage/spirit. Take a moment to think about your loved one. Did they have a favorite drink (were they a Coke or Pepsi person, for instance?), or perhaps a favorite treat? I had an aunt who loved carrot cake. At dinner on the day of her interment, we remembered her with carrot cake for dessert.

Traditional ofrendas offer sweet breads, in addition to personalized foods: pan dulce or pan de muertoThey also decorate with calaveras (decorated sugar skull-shapes) and bright yellow and orange marigolds, the Aztec flower of the dead whose scent is thought to invite the spirits closer. On our virtual ofrenda, perhaps these will be appropriate:

On the bottom tier of the ofrenda, there are almost always lit candles, and frequently a washbasin of water, towel, comb, etc. so the spirit can refresh itself. The spirit realm, it seems, is a desolate, dusty space. So let’s offer your loved one’s spirit a virtual spa day.

The point of an ofrenda is honor and cherish loving memories of a person who is no longer living. To remember is to help extend your loved one’s legacy, and in a way to help them live on.

Let’s complete our virtual ofrenda by thinking of something sweet, loving, funny, or otherwise typical that your loved one did or said, that brings a warm feeling to your heart and a smile to your face. Such feelings are the best legacy of all.

I hope you (and your loved one’s spirit) have enjoyed my offering of this virtual ofrenda. If you’d like to extend your loved one’s life-in-memory and share a fun or touching story in the Comments section, I’d be honored.

IMAGES: I found the image with the poem by John F. Connor on Pinterest. Many thanks! I also am grateful to AskIdeas, for the “Welcome Back” sign, and to Milissa Silva-Diaz, whose La Experiencia Mexicana page gave me the photo of the pan de muertos, marigolds, and sugar skull. Thanks are due to Creative Blogging, for the “spa day” evocation photo; I feel refreshed, just looking at it. The “Remembering Good Times” image is from QuotesGram. The “Good Times + Crazy Friends” image is from hplyriks, via the QuotationInspiration Pinterest page. The “A Good Friend Knows” image is from DailyInspirationalQuotes, via Quotes By Who. The “Most treasured heirlooms” Quote is from Picture Quotes. MANY THANKS TO ALL! 

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