Departed souls stay in our consciousness and we long to acknowledge them. Especially during Day of the Dead, we pay concrete tribute in a variety of ways. At La Casa Camino Real here in Las Cruces, NM, some of us created portable shrines.
I received satisfaction selecting the items that Mariah Chase artistically arranged. On the inside of the suitcase lid hang polaroid photos of Harold in various costumes worn as a movie and TV extra during the last 25 years of his life. A box of DeCecco spaghetti rests on the bottom. Pastai was his favorite food especially when tossed with olive oil and garlic. You can also see his eyeglasses, his AFTRA membership cards, some plastic pipe fittings that represent the family business, Florence Plumbing Supply, and the cover of the Buena Vista Social Club CD. Since he loved Cuban music, I played this CD as friends entered the chapel for his 2007 funeral.
Nearby at the Mesilla Valley Plaza, I encountered different styles of remembrances. They are a reminder that nothing is as powerful as the name of the departed to elicit strong emotions. Although I knew none of those names on display, I choked up realizing that each one represented one human being and a history of their impact on earth. On a multicultural note, I love that each Latino name had an origami crane above it — a Japanese symbol of long life.
On Day of the Dead, November 2 (All Soul’s Day), we also acknowledge beloved pets. The shrine below features paw prints of each of my departed cat companions, their toy, Nemo, and two cans of cat food. After the unexpected death of Tortuga, my dear friend, Rachel Spector, sent me the stuffed cat as a condolence gift.
Beyond the momentary acknowledgment on November 2, pet owners find other modes of perennial commemoration. For example, I gave some of Tommy’s cremains to artist, Rick Rotante. As part of his Ashes to Art project, he combined Tommy’s ashes with the oils he used to create a painting of Tom. When I sit at my desk and look up, there he is, that rescue cat who rescued me from depression after the death of my husband, Harold.
My friend, PJ Dempsey, remembers her Half Arabian Pinto mare, Endless Luv, by gazing at a beautiful ceramic bowl in which Luv’s horsehairs have been ingrained. This is another aesthetic way to commemorate their 19 years of companionship.
No matter the method and regardless of species, we humans yearn to maintain our relationships with departed souls of those who impacted our lives. In this way, we honor the spirits of all sentient beings.
Norine Dresser is a folklorist, who anxiously awaits the arrival of her next furry friend. Details to follow.