PORTLAND, Ore. — People around the world and in the Pacific Northwest are celebrating Dia de los Muertos, also known as the Day of the Dead. The holiday, observed in Mexico and globally, is meant to honor loved ones who have died and celebrate them.
It spans two days, Nov. 1-2. The first day generally focuses on children and the second is focused on adults.
It’s been a tough few years for Hortencia Antunes and her 11-year-old son, Christian Cruz. The Portland-area family has been dealing with grief related to the death of a father and husband. On this Dia de los Muertos, they and many others are celebrating and remembering their loved one.
“It’s been a very difficult and painful process to go through life alone, with my son,” Antunes said through an interpreter.
Her husband, Salvador Cruz Garcia, died in a car accident on January 25, 2020.
“I did not want to go outside,” Cruz said. “(I) barely talked, only talking to my mom about my dad.”
Cruz said his father was a hard worker and would help his mom with things around the house, despite coming home tired. He said he feels like he has to be the man of the house and help take care of his mom now that his dad is gone.
“(Salvador) was always a very happy person, very joyful. He was a very social person,” Antunes said.
The family has tried to cope with his death. It’s been hard, but days like Dia de los Muertos help them celebrate his memory.
“I remember him by putting on the alter for the dead, the things he enjoyed. Food and drinks, as is the tradition in our country … along with his picture,” Antunes said.
Those who celebrate the Day of the Dead often will set up alters or 'ofrendas' to remember their loved ones.
Antunes said the Dougy Center — a nonprofit with locations in Southeast Portland and Canby — has helped her grieve. Vanessa Valencia, a board member for the Dougy Center, said Antunes was a part of the nonprofit’s Esperanza program for Spanish speakers. In Spanish, esperanza means hope. This Dia de los Muertos, the Dougy Center has set up an ofrenda for families it serves.
“The Dougy Center provides grief support for children and families who have experienced a loss free of charge,” Valencia said.
Antunes said she was in a peer support group with other people, and they gave her the emotional support that she needed at the time. Cruz was involved in a children’s support group.
“Some people, they lose a family member. It’s like, good because you get to talk with them. You get to express your emotions,” Cruz said. “You guys know what each other feel like and try to help each other out.”
For people experiencing grief, the takeaway is that they aren't alone.
“It feels like the world is falling down around you. But when you meet other people who have gone through something that is similar, you realize that you’re not alone,” Antunes said.
Valencia shared a few tips from the Dougy Center for people who have lost a loved one. She said there’s no timeline for grief, so give yourself the time you need to grieve. It’s also a good idea to lean on people close to you. Talk to someone, because bottling up feelings isn’t healthy.
Additionally, she said it’s OK to remember a loved one by doing things like eating their favorite meal, wearing their favorite color, or listening to their favorite music.