There were intricate altars for family members, to call them back to us. To appreciate and rejoice in their lives. Some had lights, and others had candy. Families sat by each one, smiling and sharing stories about their beloved dead.
Some had papier-mâché figures.
The marigolds, seen at every altar, are traditional flowers whose purpose is to call the dead back to us, to lead them home.
Altars included items and themes important to the dead, like this one from Alice in Wonderland:
There was a traditional Mayan dance, to call them back to us.
One had a snakes and ladders game, where you roll the dice to learn your vice or virtue, then earn the right to write a deceased loved one’s name on the board. I wrote small, but it felt good and right. Loss transcends culture, location, time. The particulars are personal, yet death wears a common shroud. The days of mourning are long, but the years are fast. When we remember together, in that communal remembering we bring to life those we are no longer with us.
Later that weekend, in church, the service was on Lessons from the Dying. We did a choral reading of a Rumi poem I plan on using at my own someday future funeral. We heard the top 5 regrets of the dying, and I ticked them off in my head: improving, good, good, improving, maaaaaaybe.
As I grow older, I realize how repetitive life experiences are. No one has the same constellation of events, the same quirky characters and idiosyncratic specifics, but there are thick, common threads that bind us together. Someone has gone through the life event you’re experiencing. They survived. You will too. They probably even wrote about it. Why not learn from them? We’re not such special snowflakes. Might as well benefit from the bounty of others’ life experience.