What does it mean to grieve and celebrate in a collective setting?
On the third of November this year, we at Death Ed, in partnership with the Mexican Cultural Association in Skåne (Mexikanska Kulturföreningen i Skåne), celebrated ‘Día de Muertos’ or ‘Day of the Dead’ in Malmö. It was a half-day of music, food, dancing, and convivial rememberance. On this day, it is believed that the souls of loved ones passed return to the Earth, and commune with the living. It is a time for memorial and grief; but most importantly, a time for laughter and togetherness. Día de Muertos is characterised by color and lavish decorations — most obviously represented in a collective altar to the dead, where offerings (such as bread and flowers), photos and various bric-a-brac are placed.
The morbid light-heartedness to the memorial brings a special element to the way grief is represented and channeled through the hearts of its contributors. The gravity of loss is counterbalanced. It’s uplifted, and carried collectively.
Death was almost irrecognisable in bright colors. But never more welcoming. The night began with a ‘Death Café,’ where people discussed death and dying over tea and cake. A ‘Death Cafe’ is an open space where people can engage in conversation about death and grief without an agenda. It is a place for intellectual and cultural exploration. The movement started in the U.K. in 2011 with Jon Underwood, and has thus spread around the world.
After an hour of discussion, the floor opened up to a dance troupe (Corazón Mexicano) which performed a traditional Mexican dance, in full wardrobe.
The evening followed in suit and similar spirits, with additional dancers performing later (a traditional aztec dance). On the open dancefloor, people ranged from the age of 1 to 90. Children weaved in between moving legs with their faces painted like skulls, in homage of ‘La Calavera Catarina,’ an icon of the holiday. To the side of the room, food was being served: nachos, tamales, and ‘pan de muerto’ (bread of the dead).
In total, we were 150 people, coming from diverse places in Mexico, Sweden, and more. We spoke many different languages, but had little trouble communicating. The language was all in the attitude, and in the shared sentiment that we’ve all lost somebody, and feel compelled to celebrate their lives.
It is not so often that collective spaces are opened up where communities can altogether remember loved ones. It is less often that those collective spaces are as lively and celebratory as Día de Muertos is. The effect of collective expressions of grief is unique. For some, it can lessen the burden of grief and even transform it. Many guests expressed to me that this day helped them feel close to their loved ones in a way that was characterised more by joy than by sorrow. At the same time, on this day, death is not a loss born by one person, it is a loss born by everyone, in a symbolic sense.
Published by Jamie Woodworth
Many thanks to the Mexican Cultural Association.
You can visit them on Facebook here.