A Day at the Office, and the Day of the Dead


My workday started yesterday with a lady who is nearing the end of her life. She has a good deal of dementia, and although she is still recognizable as the person I’ve been treating for years, she is not quite that person anymore, literally a shadow of her former self. Who is she now? This lady’s daughter gave the opinion that when her father died, her mother died as well. Where did she go?

The day ended with my empathically witnessing the very troubled birth of a child whose mother was the person actually lying on my table. The child has been having terrible nightmares and visions. Our working theory was that these distressing images relate to a disaster that occurred two generations back, before the birth of the child’s grandmother, because they seem to depict such similar images. Is this trauma still stuck in the psyche of the family group? Is the little girl a version of someone who was physically present at the event? Why is this child the one carrying the trauma?

All that plus an extra measure of fatigue and stress to scrape away my outer layers made me especially conscious of the continuity and connectedness of human life. It’s a few days past Día de los Muertos, and this year I have felt the thinness of the veils as never before. (As I wrote that, I felt a touch from Fryderyk at my right side.) Most years I hadn’t noticed anything special at that time, though I appreciated it and cherished it as my favorite holiday.

But most years I didn’t know so many on the other side personally. Within the past year one of our cats passed, then the patient and friend that I’ve mentioned, then two of my husband’s relatives, then my cousin. Very recently there were two I only knew vaguely but my husband knew better, someone prominent in the music community and an artist who lived down the street from us. A week ago I made an ofrenda in the dining room, with silk flowers and an Archangel Michael votive from my patient’s house, and put up pictures of those I could.

Late that night I suddenly felt strongly drawn into that room. I paid attention and pulled up a chair next to the ofrenda. There was an incredible sense of peace, and as I gazed at the photos in turn, I felt the presence of each of the deceased, especially my patient, and very much including the cat. As you know, for me to reach out to the dead is nothing new, but they had never reached toward me in this way before. It was a wonderful benediction and blessing. I didn’t want it to end.

altar 2014

The theme of this year’s Marigold Parade, the Día de los Muertos observance in Albuquerque’s South Valley, was water (“No Se Vende, Se Defiende!”). Nature went along by dumping rain on us, the only rainy, chilly day in a period of gorgeous fall weather. The energy was a bit lower than usual, but my enthusiasm for the holiday was way up.  Here’s my attitude:

From a calendar owned by my patient, artist unknown

From a calendar inherited from my patient, artist unknown

I’ve encountered a reaction of “ewwww” from some folks who aren’t in tune with this celebration of the dead. I don’t understand why. The dead are no more or less than the same people we loved when they were alive, and our relation to them doesn’t change in any fundamental way. Our ancestors may be gone from this plane, but their lives inform and nourish ours at every moment. There is nothing foreign or frightening about them.

The depictions of the dead dressing up in their party clothes, playing music, eating, drinking and dancing charm me. Why not have fun, free from one’s earthly cares? Because I know that there is infinite potential to keep learning, developing, loving, and appreciating, and I want others to know it too, I like this kind of reminder. The images of the skull and the skeleton also remind us that under the skin we are all the same, and that all of us are equal in facing death, no matter what our station in life.


Filed under history, spirit communication, spirituality

5 responses to “A Day at the Office, and the Day of the Dead

  1. Beautiful. This year, the veil was indeed very thin. Thank you for all you do.


  2. Yes – under the skin and in the bones we are all the same, at the border of the mystery. So let us lighten up with the beautiful and Grateful Dead! Yes, I feel the veil is thin, also. Vulnerable.


  3. Hania Stromberg

    Thank you Elene for your post. I have been touched and inspired reading about the ofrenda (a new word for me, what’s its origin?) you made and your experience with it, or its energy (perhaps that’s the same, I’m not sure.). Beside lovingly gathering the pictures of the ones who recently passed and lovingly arranging these among votive candles and flowers, what else did you put into making the ofrenda? Ordo you think that the energy is more controlled by the other side than by anything we do here.? However, a preparation, an invitation, is often very helpful – don’t you think? If I can find energy for it, I would like to make such ofrenda with pictures of the ones I love who are not in the body. I think, if this energy of ofrendas is accessible for most people to experience, this would be a very healing practice if it became popular. We so badly need the experiences with the “other side” to become a regular way of life, I think. So here are many questions in this email of mine. And I would appreciate your thoughts regarding these questions.

    Love to you Hania


    • This is already a very popular practice and regular way of life! In Mexico and the Southwest, that is, once a year for Dia de los Muertos. In Mexico, people go to the cemeteries with offerings of favorite foods as well as flowers and other decorations. The whole thing is a combination of indigenous traditions with Catholicism (All Souls’ Day). Sometimes people make altars for whole classes of people, such as all those killed in war, or all of the women murdered in Juarez, or all those who perished in the tsunamis. It doesn’t have to be for an individual. Here are some elaborate examples: http://www.inside-mexico.com/ofrenda.htm

      I didn’t do anything special this year that I hadn’t done in making a Dia de los Muertos altar before, but I had a different experience, and I don’t know why for sure. It didn’t occur to me that I could have put an offering on the only one of the graves that was accessible to me, that of Angel the cat.

      Sometimes in the past I’ve put out blank music manuscript paper, pens, and chocolate for Fryderyk. But I didn’t notice any reply to that.


  4. What a fantastic experience that must have been. I have been doing a lot of studying on communications between the living and the dead. Roberta Grimes’ book The Fun of Staying in Touch is my current read. robertagrimes.com is her site. Let me tell you she has a wealth of teaching about this, I recommend her works to anyone that has had what they think is a sign, fascinating events.


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