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Can Dia de los Muertos Help us Grieve?

Shutterstock / David Litman

Can Dia de los Muertos Help us Grieve?

Again we celebrate “El Día de los Muertos.”
Is it useful, from the perspective of Método Grief Recovery México?

Each year, Mexicans all over the world celebrate “El día de los muertos.” Its an old tradition, born of the union of the native and Hispanic cultures. Cemeteries overflow with flowers, music, food and drinks. Thousands go to celebrate the memory of the deceased right in their tombs.

How is it celebrated?

There is a lot of creativity. Typically you'll see flowers, ornaments and tributes to honor the deceased—food (mole or tacos), drink (beer or tequila), cigarettes, whatever represents the dead to his or her family. It is a way to “spend one more day with the departed.”

For some it is a very solemn, serious celebration full of tears and prayer. For others it is an opportunity to show, through dark humor and lack of respect, that death is not to be feared. It is very common to read eulogy verses.

Are these traditions helpful to those who are grieving the departed?

My first thought was that although they may be heartfelt or fun, such practices add little to long-term recovery. When I started to think more deeply about the subject, however, I found certain redeeming qualities. Día de los Muertos is a day of honoring and remembering our dear departed. It's a fact that the deceased is physically gone, but the celebration allows us to keep the emotional links. It's a beautiful way to pray for our loved ones who have died and keep their memory alive in our families. All of this might provide at least short-term relief from the pain of loss.

On further reflection I found another possible source of emotional completion for grievers, and a more permanent one. In this celebration it is normal to talk about our loved ones with our living relatives and friends. And, since the person is gone, it might be in a much less judgmental way. It would not be out of the question to express forgiveness, apologies or significant emotional statements. This emotional completion is not likely to be as complete as recovery done in a structured environment with the method that I proudly teach, but at least some completion might occur. And that is a lot better than none.

So in summary: after consideration, I believe there are some benefits that might be reaped by participating in this huge Mexican celebration. So, dear reader, let me wish you a happy Día de los Muertos.

As a proud Mexican, I invite you to further deepen your understanding of the holiday by watching a funny, beautiful short film that earned a prize in 2013. The film shows Día de los Muertos tradition through the eyes of a little girl whose mother is dead. She experiences a whole palette of emotions—sadness, surprise, horror, humor... until she reaches peace and completion.

Written by Arturo Albin, Director of Método Grief Recovery México

Originally published November 1, 2015