Birmingham's Dia De Los Muertos

Guillermo's Shrine  

"Woman with a somber gaze

Tell me, what do you see in the candles?

Are they ghosts in the night

Or are they flowers of the Earth?" -- Julie Sopetran, Spanish poet

Unlike the Spaniards, who viewed death as the end of life, the natives viewed it as the continuation of life. Instead of fearing death, they embraced it. To them, life was a dream and only in death did they become truly awake -- Carlos Miller, Arizona Republic

I finally made it to Birmingham's Dia De Los Muertos this week. Bonfires, food trucks selling pork belly sandwiches, so many friends walking through the streets admiring the shrines to the departed, beautiful paintings and sculptures and food offerings.

Beforehand, I went to a face painting party, invited by my friend Anne.

There, several members of the Mandatory Margarita Book Club gathered for a first ever -- we had our faces painted by Elaine Tindill-Rohr of Painted Personalities. She's enormously talented, and took the time to get to know each one of us and hear our stories before she chose the colors and designs we'd wear into the streets.

Elaine painting Karin

It was good to visit with these girls, and have our faces made up, and walk in the mild November night air to such a beautiful display of art and community and storytelling. I was happy to be with them, and to run into so many familiar faces (err, behind the masks). Here I am with Naked Art's Vero. She created her mask (a showstopper) in a day. There was joy. 

With Vero


Mandatory Margarita Members at Day of the Dead

Anne brought the sunflowers for Guillermo Castro, a pillar of Birmingham's restaurant community who was pivotal in developing Dia De Los Muertos. This year, he was memorialized. 

There was sadness.

I walked through the streets, chatting with friends and admiring the lovingly created shrines. I thought about the dead who are not dead to me: my grandmother, who passed away eight years ago this week, my beloved Uncle Charlie, who would have turned 68 this week.

In rural Mexico, people visit the cemetery where their loved ones are buried. They decorate gravesites with marigold flowers and candles. They bring toys for dead children and bottles of tequila to adults. They sit on picnic blankets next to gravesites and eat the favorite food of their loved ones (Miller).

Then I ran into some colleagues and we rounded a corner together. The three of us were stopped in our tracks: a shrine for Sara.

It was tall and larger than life, just like her. It also caught me off guard. I didn't know it would be there. I should have known. Day of the Dead was one of her favorite events. I remember her walking into the office the day after, trademark red hair bouncing, asking me why I wasn't there. It was one of Birmingham's gorgeous nights, she said, filled with the things that she cherished --  art, community, food.

The three of us stood there staring. The painting, by artist Arthur Price, depicted her perfectly -- the fiery hair, the ice blue eyes. And especially the strength. 

Sometimes at work, when I'm standing by the copy machine or walking down the hall, I expect to see her. The first day I reported to work at the magazine she met me at the door with a hug and fresh cut flowers. It is surreal now to see fresh cut flowers at her altar. Sometimes at work, on the hard days, I think about her grace, and I pray for it. And for Sara, who has crossed this bridge but remains with us. The beauty, sadness and joy are one.

Sara's shrine For Sara

Related Links:

The Saddest, Sunniest Day: A Prayer For Sara 

Mandatory Margarita Book Club: Adventures in Boldness and Boots