I always thought the Day of the Dead (Dia de Muertos) was an excuse to wear devastatingly evil make-up. Sure, I knew it had something to do with being dead—that’s why the make-up looked better at night—until I was told by our six-year-old what it really was. The annual Mexican tradition is a chance to celebrate everyone who has passed; to remember, as Bob explained, our Antsisters.
We’ve had a lot of death here lately. It’s time for the pigs to turn into sausages and bacon, and the Other Camp Family had to say goodbye to one of their lovely old dogs. Unfortunately, Bob heard the shot.
“Did Daddy W shoot Boris?”
There was no getting around the truth. “Yes, darling. It was best.”
“So he didn’t suffer like that baby deer did, when you wouldn’t kill him Mummy?”
Children never forget some things.
A terrible accident killed two brothers from Bob’s school last week. Then we found out a family in New Zealand lost one of their daughters. Beautiful, smart, lovely Sophie. Us parents have a few design flaws—one is our depth and breadth of love for our offspring. It’s so enormous, and so consuming it stretches our hearts to three times the size. And if we lose one, or all, of our babies how on earth do we fill the hole and cope with the emptiness?
There is no way over it, I imagine, just through it.
We lost our much-loved Opa recently and the person who mentions him the most is the ‘Dactyl. She last saw him on her third birthday in New Zealand—over 18 months ago—but there was something special between the Octogenarian and his youngest grandchild. In Opa’s last days, with his brain well-pickled on a tumour and morphine, he kept seeing a little blonde girl. “There she is again,” he would say to Oma, his eyes tracking someone around the room. “She’s getting closer.”
We wanted to send Opa off with a river ceremony so we made him a boat. Bob crafted the hull and the ‘Dactyl painted a sail. We all trotted down to the river, and the Other Camp Family came along for support. Solemnly, all the children put colourful flowers (to represent Holland) and ferns (to represent New Zealand) on top, then the Dimple put a fire-starter block on top, lit it, and set the boat free into the chilly water. We stood there gravely watching, saying our silent farewells.
And then the boat sank with a ploof.
“Opa, Opa” the children yelled. “Not that way!”
Next minute clothes flew off and they were in the water, retrieving Opa from the river floor and readjusting the rocks in the hull, the flowers and ferns barely hanging on.
Trying again, the ‘Dactyl set the boat off towards the ocean. It floundered. Then Bob had the brilliant idea of getting a massive log into the water, and mounting it like a boat to go with him. Still naked. And squealing with laughter.
Our forest pixies find nakedness both natural and hilarious.
It was hard to keep track of Opa for a while amongst the splashing and sloshing of four small bodies on a large slippery log. The little boat looked like it was enjoying itself, one bedraggled fern hanging on for dear life. The adults couldn’t help but grin from the river bank, any sense of ceremony impossible. Opa eventually drifted off from the boisterous group but instead of going down river, the little boat drifted back up.
“Opa wants to stay!” squealed the ‘Dactyl, splashing after him.
The Dimple and I locked eyes. Her profundity unlocked tears that had wanted to come.
Strong, warm, kind Opa wasn’t quite ready to go. Perhaps we weren’t ready to say goodbye either. We have needed more than one day to remember him.
Children, we have discovered, are the best thing to fill the hole parents leave.
Bob and the ‘Dactyl have enjoyed preparing things for Boris, Sophie, the two brothers and Opa for this year’s Day of the Dead. It’s a creative way to remember plus they get to decorate skulls with coloured sugar. To my surprise they don’t find jiggling skeletons morbid, but funny, and I can’t help but think that laughing children is exactly what those Antsisters want to hear.