“I’m going to the cemetery,” I flatly told my husband. “I need some time alone.”

He looked at me. “Go ahead. Be careful out there. Are you sure you don’t want us to come along?” He knew I hated driving, but I felt compelled to go. He knew I’d be crying.

I needed to do this alone. After work on Friday, I stopped by the grocery store to pick up some marigolds. Flowers were important in Dia de los Muertos; they represented the fragility of life, and the bright colors of orange and yellow attracted spirits and guided them. I found a bunch, along with some mums, and then headed over to the bakery section. Another important part of the tradition was bringing favorite foods of the loved ones to the cemetery as part of an offering to further encourage the spirits to come. I ended up with a package of pastelitos de guayaba and circus peanuts for my father, Kedem Tea Biscuits and a shot of Benedictine for my mom, and some sugar skulls for both of them.

I drove down to Dade City and pulled onto the narrow road in front of the memorial parking near the front of the columbarium. I cut the flowers, opened the packages, poured a shot, and brought them to the white marble sepulcher. My breath caught when I saw the bronze plaque with both their names on it. It had only one name etched on it a few months ago. I placed the marigolds in the flower holder and placed a framed photo of my parents and cousin on top. Beside it I placed the pastry and cookies, ants appearing out of nowhere. The sugar skulls, in bright hues of blue, green, and orange, represented the souls of the departed.

I knew one day they had to die; it’s part of the natural order of things that parents die before their children do. My body felt as if it were being squeezed, finding it harder to breathe. I needed a tissue and headed back to my car. That’s when I heard it.

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Julie Harris
Julie Harris(@julie-harris)
10 months ago

This is such a rich story, Barb, with wonderful details. Do you yourself celebrate Day of the Dead? I know about the traditions in Mexico, but not in Florida! That last line left me wondering – is something else going to happen?

Juma
Juma(@juma)
Reply to  Barb Dukeman
10 months ago

That is so interesting, Barb. I’ll have to check out “Coco”. I know many cultures have a day set aside for honoring the dead of their own family. Our Memorial Day seems to be just for those who died in a war, not honoring family members. I do vaguely remember people decorating graves when I was little, but my family was scattered all over the country so we didn’t have any central burying or honoring place. Also I never heard of the word “columbarium” before I read your story, but today a friend mentioned going to a columbarium close by. I love learning all these new things!

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Margarida Brei
Margarida Brei(@margarida-brei)
10 months ago

Miss Barb, I enjoyed reading about this cultural event at the columbarium. No, no, no- you just can’t end your story on a cliff hanger!

Lotchie Carmelo
Lotchie Carmelo(@lotchie-carmelo)
10 months ago

Hello, Barb. I never fully imagined that we would have the same tradition every time the day of the dead comes. Your last paragraph really made me cry too. That’s also how I feel every time I visit my father at his grave. But I feel relief when I do visit him and cry to wash away the pain. I was able to release all my sadness and longing for him.

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Christer Norrlof
Christer Norrlof(@christer-norrlof)
10 months ago

I liked reading your latino-inspired story, Barb, with the traditional Dia de los muertos well described and with Spanish words of cakes decorating the story. They give a great flavor to the ambiance. Good luck with your novel.

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