Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Remembering the Dead

Posted By on Tue, Nov 6, 2007 at 10:15 AM

Being back in Tucson means I get an invitation with my mom to go to the Catholic cemetery on All Souls Day/Day of the Dead. So, trying to be a good 40-year-old daughter, I go with my mom to Holy Hope last Friday with a smile on my face. 

It's interesting being in a place that is all about the past. I was deluged with memories of going to the cemetery as a youngster with my mom and her two sisters, along with my other girl cousins. It was a female-only event for my family. I've never asked her why, but it was always that way. 

Back then, we went to a large flower mart. I can't remember where it was, but I'm sure my oldest aunt who loved Old Pueblo Traders led the pack there for a good flower deal or two. 

My family has always had beliefs about different dead relatives, as well as the process of death—beliefs that bordered on mystical. When I was younger, I didn't have a lot of respect for these stories and always rolled my eyes at them along with my cousins. Now, I cherish those tales and think about making up a few of my own. 

I remember that these beliefs reflected the flowers we purchased. My grandfather loved roses, and we wouldn't be able to find his gravestone if we didn't bring him roses. He’s buried only 10 feet away from my great-great-grandmother. They never complained about finding her. 

There was also an area reserved for babies where my oldest aunt's youngest is buried. I remember holding hands with my two oldest cousins as we looked down at his little headstone and said hello to him in our little voices. 

And now, more than 30 years have passed, and here I am with my 72-year-old mother. Surrounding us are families having picnics, music coming out of radios and even a mariachi musician in the distance. My mother's sisters are now gone and get a share of the flowers at each of their gravesites—flowers my mother buys from the flower section of the arts and crafts store. 

I look around feeling odd about the fake flowers, but sure enough, we are surrounded in a sea of fake flowers. There are a few holdouts of the real thing. A few years ago, my mother bought a bench that reads "Herreras Family" on the side. The bench sits at the foot of her mother and father's gravesite. 

My mother clears grass off headstones before putting the flowers in place. We rest on the bench before moving on to other relatives. I remind her about the roses for my grandfather. She laughs and says she doesn't seem to have trouble finding him now. She likes the view from the bench because she just has to look across, and there is her great-great-grandmother. She says hello to her. 

Next to her mother and father's headstone is a large rock she bought at the same time she bought the bench. She had her oldest sister's ashes moved to the inside of the rock.

Next to my aunt's name is my mother's without a date of death. 

"Is it strange to see your name, or where you're going to be buried?" I ask her. “Not at all. I feel good about it," she says. 

I think she also feels good that as a single parent she has taken care of one of the last details. I don't have to worry about where she would want to go or how I'd pay for it. (Kind of like how she paid most of my college tuition and my wedding, too.) These are her last moments of single-parenthood pride. 

We go on to my cousin who died as a baby, then to my mother's middle sister, and finally an uncle. I notice a doctor buried next to my aunt. His flower holder has a real cactus in it. A caregiver at the mausoleum tells us it blooms once a year. 

When my mom and I finish the visits, we go off to lunch. She’ll be back again to Holy Hope during Christmas and again on Mother’s Day. "It’s good you’ll know where everyone is buried," she says. I think she also likes having the company.

I think about the little space she has reserved for her ashes in the rock. She wants to make sure someone keeps coming to the cemetery. She wants to make sure everyone is remembered. 

I think of my two cousins and me coming out to the cemetery as we get older, each taking a turn getting fake flowers at the arts and crafts store. These female traditions of remembering the dead left again to three women just like my mother and her two sisters. I hope we don't let them down.

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