Editor’s Note: This week there are a number of large, public Día de los Muertos (“Day of the Dead”) events in the Southern half of the Texas Hill Country. One Helotes writer and photographer, Denise L. Moore, took her camera into San Antonio cemeteries and then forwarded to us a few photographs and a personal essay. Together they reflect the more personal side of the poignant Mexican holiday traditionally observed between Halloween and November 2.
I’m not a cemetery gal. I don’t talk to graves. There’s nothing at all wrong with that. It’s just not my form or location of communication with the dead.
I make one exception, once a year, when I visit South Texas cemeteries between late October and early November. During the days surrounding Día de los Muertos, there’s a glow, a sparkle, an outpouring of emotions in preparation for the veil between Here and Beyond to thin, allowing loved ones to briefly stop by, to drop in, to move a little closer to the living.
This is the time of year when, for me, the cemeteries feel most alive.
Graves are decorated, adorned with celebratory symbols and items the dearly beloved cherished when they were alive. It’s whimsical, it’s beautiful, and it’s a colorful, moving kind of longing for the dead.
It draws me in, too, this rare chance to glimpse the deceased I never knew and learn a little about who they were.
I love to wander, feel, imagine what the decorations mean, who they’re for and who left them. I take my camera because it gives me focus. The lens takes me beyond the immediate view, pulling me into the details. Pretty flowers, bright orange Halloween arrangements, religious and collectible statues, and small tokens patiently await the return of lost loved ones.
Oh, and there’s beer.
Three beer cans sit near a stone, two empty and one full. Perhaps two friends visited, laughed, remembered, cried, and toasted a loved one. Before leaving, they put a cold one among the empties, a little refreshment for their loved one’s Día de los Muertos visit.
I’m not Hispanic. I’m not Latina. I’m from neither Texas nor Mexico. My skin is light. I’m from the North, but I’ve lived in South Texas for more than 20 years. But if I ever again live near the cemeteries of my loved ones, I’ll embrace the Día de los Muertos spirit and gussy up their graves in a way that’d take Martha Stewart’s breath away.
Until then, come early November, my camera and I will continue our practice of visiting local cemeteries, seeking out signs of those universal human emotions of love and loss, entwined as they are among the gravestones.
Denise L. Moore is a writer and photographer with a passion for observing both people and animals.
• See also our recent Día de los Muertos at La Villita piece for more glimpses into this important annual cultural occasion.