Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Mexican ethnic holiday takes on greater meaning for me these days

I am of Mexican ethnic origins (three of my four grandparents were born there, along with one set of great-grandparents) and always have found my background to be of personal interest.
My brother on a baseball-themed trip to Pittsburgh

Yet I have to confess, the concept of the Day of the Dead isn’t one that ever caught on with me. Until now, that is.

FOR THOSE WHO are uninformed, the holiday being celebrated Wednesday night into the early hours of Thursday is a Mexican one whose serious point is that we pay homage to those of our loved ones who are no longer with us – as in they have died.

There are those Mexicans who go so far as to build elaborate tributes to their loved ones. There are others who literally will spend the night tonight at the cemetery, visiting with their loved ones in gravesite picnics that turn into semi-festive celebrations.

I don’t plan to go that far, largely because both of the loved ones who are popping into my memory these days were cremated. I don’t have cemetery plots to visit, and in fact I have my mother’s remains with me.

In my case, my loved ones to remember are my mother, Jenny, and my brother, Christopher.

My brother and mother, in a happy moment
AS IT TURNS out, the anniversary dates of both of their deaths come up around this time of year. In the case of my brother, Sunday was the second anniversary of the aneurism he suffered that almost instantly killed his brain activity, and Monday was the anniversary of the date upon which he was pronounced dead.

As for my mother, it will have been seven years on Nov. 10 since the day she suffered a complication related to her diabetes treatments that caused her to bleed to death.

Meaning this early autumn time period that I otherwise would think of as the conclusion of the World Series and the end of the baseball season in this part of the globe (it’s just kicking into gear in professional leagues that play across the Caribbean) is one in which I find myself remembering my brother and our mother.
One of my mother's favorite family photographs

In that sense, the Day of the Dead takes on a certain convenience factor in that I can remember both of them at once – and know I’m not alone in thinking about death. Although I’d prefer to think of it as remembering the lives that used to exist – and not the piles of ash that they have been reduced to these days.

MY BROTHER (HE was younger than me) only made it to age 45. His was a case of his blood pressure reaching such high levels that he was on medication that doctors were fiddling around with at the time we lost him.

If anything, my brother’s experience has been an educational one for me, since I have developed blood pressure issues and doctors have described my own condition in ways that make it seem I’m at an earlier stage of what ultimately took down my brother.

His life may well be the warning of what could happen to me if I slack off on my own medical routine.
My mother as a child, long before I ever existed. She's with her Uncle Aurelio "Spinx" Salas, and a part of me likes to think he's keeping an eye on her these days

Although I actually feel the need to keep living in part to not embarrass the memory of those before me. Yes, a part of me feels like my mother’s spirit is watching over me, and is prepared to give me a smack or two upside the head should I ever encounter her again for everything stupid I may do with what remains in my life.

MY MOTHER ONLY made it to 66 at the time of her death, and the final decade of her life was a not-so-pleasant experience of constant medical treatment. Being that I’ve barely past the half-century mark of life, I know it won’t be all that much longer before I can say I’ve lived longer than she did.

Unless I’m amongst the ones unfortunate enough to suffer an early ending. One thing I learned a long time ago from my reporter-type person work is that there are no guarantees about life. One can go at any time, and perhaps I should view myself lucky to have survived this long.

These are thoughts passing through my head on this Day of the Dead, and perhaps this essay is my remembrance of family whose absence still leaves me longing – even though I’m fortunate enough that my father remains and is in a place where he can continue to be a pain in the behind. Although I’d give just about anything if my mother could be around in an equally annoying way these days.

But I also suspect my mother would be bothered by this commentary, particularly since I recall she used to get all creeped out at Day of the Dead imagery and thoughts – she’d probably want her memory to be the last thing possible to be associated with Wednesday in any way.


EDITOR’S NOTE: On a not-quite-so-related point, I’m still amused by this use of Day of the Dead imagery in this animated sequence from the 2002 film “Frida” that explains just how badly bashed the body of Frida Kahlo was from a bus crash she suffered as a teenager that left her crippled through much of her life.

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