Mark this date on your calendar for next year: Nov. 2. Celebrate Dia de los Muertos, a day to remember people who are no longer with us.

I have a friend who recently went out in the forest with a bunch of men. It’s not what you think; they weren’t beating their bare chests with their fists and howling to Zeus, the god of bare-chested men.

The weekend was an opportunity to talk. Listen. Have good conversations uninterrupted by beeping cell phones and the calls of family and business duty.

If you don’t make that happen, it doesn’t happen. We fly through life like Icarus not realizing our wings are melting and we’re headed for trouble.

Dia de los Muertos makes it happen, inviting us to remember people who walked with us, believed in us and loved us even when we weren’t at our best.

Dia de los Muertos has been around for hundreds of years, but was given new life by the Mexican government in the 1970s “to boost tourism and firm up a national identity.”

Families and friends gather, pray and remember loved ones who have died and help support their spiritual journey.

Moping is allowed but celebrating is better because your loved ones are supposed to awaken and celebrate with you. I like that idea. Both the awake part and the celebrate part.

We had our second annual party last Saturday. We were joined by our neighbors Sally and Rob, daughter-in-law Lauren and granddaughter Nora. A neighborhood thing is great because after a few pisco sours, you don’t want people to drive home and soar off a bridge and be the people you are remembering and celebrating the following year.

Sue made an altar, or ofrenda (it’s fun cherry-picking from another culture), on the sideboard. One shelf had photos of my dad, Big Herb; Lauren’s granddad, who made it to 103 and lived to beat Sam in Scrabble; Rob’s mother, Ilene, who would wait at one end of the alley with open arms while her grandchildren sprinted toward her; Sally’s parents, John and Joyce; our grandmothers and uncles; and our friends Wendy and Jim.

The second shelf holds offerings to the people being honored. Ours had chocolate, pistachios, a lime (honoring John’s fondness for gin and tonics), candles, marigolds and mini pumpkins.

Dad loved tapioca. Maybe next year. Something to look forward to for both us.

When we talked about our people, the room got quiet. Quiet or filled with laughter. It felt like church without the church.

I read an article a couple of days ago by John Paul Brammer about Dia de los Muertos and why it’s important. Brammer wrote, “Dying and living are not opposites but rather two parts of one process, with just a breath in between.”

That’s mildly comforting, especially if you’re on the breathing side of the balance sheet.

“This holiday isn’t about romanticizing the past or about wishing we could bring those who have died back to life,” Brammer writes. “Dia de Muertos instead asks us to consider that we exist in conversation with the people who came before us and the people who will come after us.”

The border between life and death is porous, Brammer says.

We finished our conversation by talking about the kids, grandchildren and the comfortable mishmash that friends and family often chew on. There is no scripting it. Every year is different and every year worth doing.

Herb Benham is a columnist for the Bakersfield Californian and can be reached at or 661-395-7279.

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