Finding Courage by Living into Memories of Love

October 20, 2023

The Celts celebrated Samhain as a thin time, when the “distance between heaven and earth is shorter.” This same mid-point between the Fall Equinox and Winter Solstice was considered a thin time for the Indigenous peoples of Mexico for more than 3000 years. It is still celebrated each year as Día de los Muertos, (Day of the Dead,) on November 2. (1)

Last weekend I enjoyed “Coco,” an animated 2017 Disney movie in which the plot revolves around Día de los Muertos in Mexico. In a respectful and humorous way Coco explores the tension between individual rights, and responsibilities and loyalty to family.

In Coco, Miguel’s family prepare for Día de los Muertos by preparing a traditional altar with pictures of deceased family members and food and gifts for them. At the top of the family tree is Miguel’s great-great grandmother Imelda and her infant daughter, Coco. Coco’s acclaim and success reflects, I believe, the very human question or mystery of how someone can cease to live who has been so alive and part of our lives.  (2)

Dia de los Muertos finds a way to bridge the thin space/time between life and death, bringing comfort and courage to those who are living. This is true whether one believes that the spirits who have passed in reality return on November 2, or that “our loved ones are alive because they live in our memories,” (1)

It’s the “living on in our memories,” that I have been thinking a lot about in these past few years with the passing of the elders in our family. I feel that Natalie Goldberg is onto something important when she wrote: “whether we know it or not, we transmit the presence of everyone we have ever known, as though by being in each other’s presence we exchange our cells, pass on some of our life force, and then we go on carrying that other person in our body.” (3)

When I remember my father, I call to mind his positivity and draw on his trust in myself. When I remember my mother, I imagine her compassionate listening living in me. My grandmother – her generosity; My mother-in-law – the grace of acceptance of her pain; my friend’s mother – her radiance, joy and faith, even as her body prepared for death; my high-school history teacher – his ability to make sense of global affairs. 

Last year I came across a lovely ritual developed by Joyce Rupp, inviting me each day in November to call to mind my “personal saints,” those who have inspired me and whom I admire. Rupp’s ritual focus is on those who help me to live my Christian faith more faithfully and lovingly. The exercise of drawing around us a circle for inspiration, mentor-ship and support is a healthy spiritual practice regardless of religion or belief. (3)

It is important to know that we are not alone. Who is the person I want to be? Who sees or has seen those qualities in me? Whether living or deceased, these people whom we admire and love are present to us because what we love in them, lives in us. That is a foundation of Jungian psychology.

“Those who passed are alive in our memories. A continuous echo that at certain occasions becomes louder.” Día de los Muertos is one of those occasions for Mexicans and others from Latino cultures. All of us have special times when our deceased loved ones seem closer to us. These are times to say thank you for memories, for the gift of their lives and in a sense, for their spirit living on in us. (1)

Gratitude Prompt: Give thanks for the lives that have touched my life and continue to sustain me with gentleness, support, and faith in me.

  3. “Out of the Ordinary” by Joyce Rupp pp 33,37-38
  4. Check out the link for “mygrief” on the hope-notes resources page.