“Mami, where’s your dad?” my 5-year-old daughter asks, even though I’ve explained to her that he died seven years ago and he’s in heaven. I guess she wants to know what that really means, but I don’t know myself, so I try to do my best to explain something I don’t understand, either.
Even so, I don’t ever want her to feel that death is something we can’t talk about. So whenever she comes to me wanting to know more about him and his whereabouts, I oblige – even if I don’t always have all the right answers.
She’s still very little and already knows I loved my dad dearly. In fact, not a day goes by that I don’t miss my papá and even though he’s gone, he’s still a big part of my life. I talk about him all the time and there are pictures of him all over my house.
So this year, I’ve decided we’re going to partake in the ancient Latin American celebration that honors those who have died, known as Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) – even though, growing up, my family never celebrated it. I figured there’s nothing wrong with creating our own family traditions.
One of the things I love the most about this holiday is the elaborate altars people make for their loved ones. I want to work on one for my dad with my kids. I’ve never really done one and I’m not the crafty type, but I think if we start small we can make it happen. There are some great ideas out there on how to make small altars using a shoebox. I think I can handle that.
The truth is that you can do whatever you want in terms of altars for Dia de Muertos, but the main idea is to put things on it that commemorate your loved one’s life, the things they loved, the things that remind you of them.
I’m looking forward to teaching my kids a lot more about my dad, who he was and how much he meant to me. I can’t think of a better way to honor him and to tackle the subject of death with my daughter in a more natural way.
Roxana A. Soto is an Emmy-winning Peruvian-born, Denver-based bilingual journalist and the co-founder of SpanglishBaby.com.