Daughters of the Dirt / Sarah Higdon

Dia de los Muertos:
Hooray for the Moon

by Gretchen Graham

Life has changed remarkably since I've become a mother. My eyes seem opened anew -- seeing the present, future and past with fresh clarity -- bringing me out of a kind of sleep. I think I must have once viewed life as a child does but I guess along the way I forgot how to see even the simplest of things and appreciate. Now, nearly every day, I take note of the moon.

Every night, when my son was two-and-a-half years old, we played "Where'd the moon go?" We'd look for the moon and when we'd find it we'd say, "There it is! Yay! Hooray for the Moon!" So much excitement over the moon, the big light that has hung in the sky all my life and that I've failed to celebrate until my little boy pointed it out to me. Now I can't imagine my eyes ever again closing to the beauty of life -- the leaves in the yard, the swing of a hammock, the stars, moon, rain, a cold drink, laughter, a cup of coffee. And I can't imagine a life without my son in it.   

When I was in ninth grade, two of my brothers died one-and-a-half years apart -- both 21 when they passed. I lived with my mother (divorced from my father since I was one) so I was closer to her experience of the loss than my father's. She was single, and after the deaths, she seemed to abandon life. She lost weight. A lot of people told her to "smile" to which she mostly wanted to reply FUCK YOU.  My dad was mostly silent, comforted by a long-time spouse, a true love to hold in the dark when he wondered where his little blond-haired boys had gone, never to be seen again. My mom didn't have that kind of tenderness, she just had me, who kept growing with life and it was, of course, somehow not enough. We need all of our children alive and anything less is downright wrong.

There are photographs of all my brothers on our mantle, above a gas heater used to warm countless families that have lived in this house over the years. My son looks at these pictures often. Once he even told me that he knew them.  "Who?" I asked. "Them," he said, pointing to the photos.

In the past, my family has always made remembering so sad: " Rocks for the Forgotten" made us uncomfortable -- even in prayer-form at a holiday dinner -- at the mere mentioning of my brothers' names.  Forgotten? No.

It's nearing November 1st -- Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) -- and while it's not observed much in the US, we have decided to start this tradition of celebrating the dead, as a family. I want my son to know that our lives, past and present, are tangled together forever in a beautiful way, that we should cherish and honor our dead for the lives they lived and the gifts they've left us and that we can see them anew.

As we light the fireworks in honor of Dia de los Muertos, I'll imagine myself with all of my brothers at 4th of July, shooting bottle rockets, and I'll remember that the gifts of the spirit are always with us. I truly feel those gifts again -- especially now that my little boy has become my "jolly lama," and opened my eyes to life.  In exchange, my gift to him is a new way to view the past, with reverence, joy and gratitude.
Gretchen Graham is Mama to four-year-old Willie, wife of singer/songwriter/guitarist Jon Dee Graham, writer and Professor of Communication at Austin Community College.