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Honoring grief and coping with loss during 'Dia de Los Muertos'


‘Dia de los Muertos,’ or Day of the Dead, is a holiday which originated in Mexico and is

celebrated across Latin America. It is passed down through generations of families

across the world, celebrated with different customs, and observed yearly on November

1st & November 2nd. The holiday dates back to both Aztec and other indigenous

Mesoamerican celebrations, as well as Catholic traditions. It is believed that during this

time of the year, spirits of the departed return to the world of the living to visit their

families and loved ones.


While Dia de los Muertos is traditionally viewed as a joyful and colorful celebration of life

to honor loved ones who have passed, grief is an integral part of the celebration.

Although our experiences with grief are unique, the ways in which Dia de los Muertos is

celebrated provides a culturally significant interpretation of death and the grieving and

mourning process. Here are three habits or traditions from Dia de los Muertos that can

be helpful as we remember loved ones or grieve their loss, whether it is on the holiday

or year-round.


1. Dedicating time to grieve: It is normal to experience a variety of emotions when

experiencing grief. This also means that it is important to have the space and

time to allow ourselves to show or express these heavy feelings. It may be

helpful to set some time aside during the day to think about the person you have

lost or simply cry. Dedicating time to grieve may help you get through your day

without feeling emotionally overwhelmed.


2. Creating rituals: There are several rituals involved in celebrating Dia de los

Muertos, including creating and decorating altars or ofrendas. Although there is

no right or wrong way to have an ofrenda, most utilize the elements of water,

wind, earth, and fire to guide the deceased on their return to the world of the

living. These elements are represented on the ofrenda by having food, water,

candles, and papel picado (i.e., colorful and intricately cut paper). During

dedicated grieving time or anniversaries, creating cultural or individualized rituals

for your journey of grief may provide you comfort. This may look like lighting a

candle, holding a picture of your loved one, listening to their favorite music, or

telling a story about them.


3. Allowing room for happiness: One of the greatest lessons we can learn from Dia

de los Muertos is the opportunity to feel joy, love, and happiness during moments

of grief. We may reflect on the happy memories created with our loved ones who

have passed. We may also consider the lessons we learned or wisdom that was

given to us from our loved ones while living in their memory.


Dia de los Muertos teaches us that there is courage in being able to grieve. While it is a

joyful celebration of life and death, it doesn't shy away from the sorrow that

accompanies the loss of loved ones. Instead, it provides a means to transform grief into

a celebration of the lives of those who are no longer with us.


For as much togetherness as many cultural norms bring to the grieving process, grief is

also individualized and sometimes isolating or dysregulating. There are means to seek

support to help ease the feelings of loneliness, confusion, and isolation that can

accompany grief. If you are in need of mental health support, consider speaking with

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