On this día de los muertos we emulate our Mexican neighbors, building a modest altar to greet family members who have gone on before us. Ours incorporates many traditional elements: a stick of copal for driving away evil spirits, candles for each of the deceased to help guide them to our ofrenda, the color and scent of cempasuchiles (marigolds) to attract them, two alfeñiques (sugar figures)—on the left a hooded ghost bearing a candle, on the right, a skull—to provide them with energy to journey onward after their visit.
For nourishment we offer pan de muertos. A bite is missing from one of the rolls. The culprit? Probably one of the many squirrels that live in the trees surrounding our house. Probably. A little booze, salt and lime should be welcome: some of our ancestors were tipplers. We keep an eye on the level in a glass of water: someone is drinking it.
The black bowl contains letters: Laura's to her grandparents and mine to my parents and to Sally, Karen and Michelle, my three sisters who died in infancy. I am surprised at how much I have to say to them. Writing them gives meaning to the entire ritual.
Night comes. We fill the house with copal smoke, light the candles. We speak with our dead and say prayers for them. I feel their presence during this night when our worlds briefly touch.
I often think about my missing family members. But never before have I tried to communicate with them. I am grateful to mexicanos for showing me the way.