Tattoo for My Dad
I walk with death every single day, something I never thought I would have to do. It has been almost 3 years and I come to realize the grieving process never really ends, it just become part of your life. I’ve learned to find the happiness in the grief. Not one day goes by that I don’t think about my father, that I don’t wish he was here. Sometimes it makes me really sad, and I begin to cry. And other times it reminds me just how much I love him and how much he loves me, and so to think of him makes me remember that love and I comforted by that feeling.
The last time all of my family was together, (my mom and dad, my brother, my sister-in-law, my niece and nephew, me, my husband, and Cruz, Santos was in my womb), was on Dia de los Muertos 2014. He died less than a month later on November 25. The hardest part for me in that first year was trying to figure out how to continue living my life without him. I remember asking Tommy, “how do I live my life without my dad, what does that look like?” The thing that scared me the most was the thought that he would just be forgotten. That we would just continue living our lives and he would become a distant memory. Our lives would go one without him. I was very angry for many reasons, but I remember thinking I did not want to give up the anger because I though doing so would make me forget him. The feeling of anger reminded me how much I loved him. But I was so afraid his impact on our lives would fade, and that I could not live with. Cruz was not even 2 years old when he died, and I wondered if he would have any memories of my father. They had such a special bond, and I was so scared Cruz would not remember that. And of course I was upset that he would never get to meet Santos, I won’t have any pictures of the two of them, Santos won’t have any memories of him. He would never know the magic that was my father. I processed this anger for a long time.
It wasn’t until the next Dia de los Muertos 2015, that I was able to release and let go of the anger. I built our altar in his name making it an extra special one. I built it outside my brother house on the front lawn, as he does not have a grave site. We put some tequila out for him, lit some candles and we all sat out there at the altar together remembering him, and just being in his presence. And it was in that very moment that I realized we could never forget him, we as a family would always make space in our lives to remember my dad. And it would not require any special work, just being our normal casual selves inviting his spirit into our hearts and spending time in his presence like we did when he was alive. That day marked a huge step in my grieving process and helped to give me comfort.
Dia de los Muertos last year marked yet another step, in that I was finally able to comfortably discuss my dad with Cruz. To teach him about the meaning of this special celebration, and how we could honor Abuelito and invite his spirit into our home. We read books, my mom and I told him about all the cool things his Abuelito taught him. And he embraced Dia de los Muertos so openly. He spread the marigold flowers along the pathway to our house, he helped me build our altar on our front lawn, and we sat together remembering in a beautiful way how lucky we are to have had my father in our lives. And how he still remains a part of our lives. I realize it’s not that I lost my father, it’s that our relationship has changed. I may not get to see and talk to him like I used to, but I know he’s with me, I feel his presence, and sometimes if I’m lucky I see his face in my dreams and I hug him and can actually feel his physical touch. Cruz so openly talks about his Abuelito and how much he misses him, which surprises me every time because I thought he would forget him. But he hasn’t and I know as long as we maintain this positive relationship to death he never will.
Dia de los Muertos had given me the opportunity to really learn about death in a visceral way. I celebrated it many times before, but more so now, it takes on a new meaning. It has been the light in the darkness that can be death. It simultaneously allows me to be sad about losing my father in this world, and yet content knowing he lives on in the spirit world, and what a beautiful gift this kind of relationship to death is. I walk with death every day, I am reminded of how real death is on a daily basis. And yet because I know death is just the beginning of another life in another world, walking with death brings me comfort, because it tells me my dad will never truly leave me.
As this Dia de los Muertos approaches as well as the 3rd anniversary of his death, I once again look forward to taking another step in my grieving journey. I got this tattoo to honor my dad, to mark this progress in my journey with grief, as well as to mark the incredible accomplishments in my own life I celebrated this year. I finished my PhD signifying a culmination of generations of hard work and perseverance. I wanted something to celebrate that, but also to celebrate the acknowledgement I have made with my daily walk with death, the embracing of the parallelism of the spirit world, and my continued yet transformed relationship with my dad. I know my dad would love it, especially the soccer ball, lol. Here is to another year of my dad’s life in the spirit world, and mine in this world. I love you dad!