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Día de Muertos - When I took my dead Grandma to México

The following I wrote in 2018 and yet every year re-currently it comes back alive...:

In this very moment, I am sitting in my room and the scent of Cémpasuchitl comes to me. It is the smell of México in October and the first days of November. I am closing my eyes for a little moment and I am catapulted back in time.

When I open my eyes, it is 2015, and I am passing the streets of Mixquic on November 2nd. I can hear the people around me: the laughter of joy, the music, the traders and the families.

My ears are open, yet my eyes are wide, my heart and soul in pain and delight at the same time. I am with a stranger who has become my friend in the last 4 hours. His name is Julio and later I will know that he was an angel sent to me for this day.

He is next to me and his presence makes me ambivalent. I feel I owe him my attention, yet my attention is focused onto the living and the dead around me. At the same time, I can feel his company contributes a feeling of safety to me. Inside. That, what I do, is just right.

It is the year my grandma passed away and I had a more than difficult time getting over it. It was that emptiness and the struggle of confrontation that led me to the one and only decision to make: to go to México with her.

During her time alive she wasn’t able to travel anymore and showing her the country I feel so connected, I feel understood, home, the origin of my spirit - it just wasn’t a realistic option. I always believed that once she would be in México she would not only see me be alive, she would understand what I meant when saying people there are warm.

So, I booked me in for México for five weeks. It was the time I would dedicate to my grief and let her go. Yet it was the time I wanted to show her my México.

In these five weeks, I travelled to different places in the country, all with her by my side. Sharing every single moment. We climbed the Nevado de Toluca, sat in the wonderful gardens of Cuernavaca, took a trip to Xalapa and ended up in Mixquic to say goodbye.

It was a rollercoaster of emotions - and one of the hardest times I had to face in my life. To me, it was yet so logical that the only way to pay real tribute to this person who had always taken care of me and I have (!) a strong bond with was to celebrate and come together in the spirit of the Día de los Muertos. The only appropriate way, colourful, warm, remembering and uniting - and most of all fearless. Embracing death as part of life.

Julio. My angel. I met him on the morning of the 2nd of November in the hotel I was staying. I was in a devastated state. I was ready to drop dead. The reasons why were the two days before. I had spent four weeks in México preparing, waiting, being scared and getting ready for this day. One of the wonderful people I made friends with during that time offered me to stay with her family on these days. I was grateful, so grateful.

Then the disaster started, it all was different from the way I wanted to say goodbye, to learn about the traditions and to take my time. The disaster started first of all as I didn’t know myself well enough back then and chose the company over being by myself and dedicating all my attention to all my emotions and our bond.

And then the storm came. The town we were in was flooded and NOTHING was possible in any way. The streets were rivers and there was no way to get to the church, the cemetery or join for any posadas to go from house to house. We were stuck. I was stuck. Trapped emotionally. This was not the way I wanted to say goodbye. Four weeks for these TWO DAYS.

I was so devastated that I searched for possibilities to still make it happen. For her. My grandma.

The weather, the traffic, the possibilities.

The only chance I had was to jump onto a bus from Xalapa to México City. I believed that somewhere in México City I would find something for sure. Some celebration to join. To make it happen. I did manage to get onto the bus and I was supposed to arrive at 8.00pm and so it seemed a fair chance to find something.

I didn’t have a place to stay, nor did I know where to go, yet staying in the house and being stuck inside myself with despair, shame, guilt, and powerlessness was no option. I felt like a failure. Something was repeating itself. Like the last moments, I had spent with her when she was already dead. When I tried to take care of her dead body. When I tried to make it right when she needed nursing. Like the times when I didn’t walk the way in life, she would have loved and approved. Like.. like what? Like always. Close, yet not good enough.

Being on the bus we got into better weather conditions and my hope was catching upholding the ford. And then. I died. We were stuck in traffic for 1, then for 2, then for 3 hours. It was 11.00pm when I arrived and the day - plus realistically the night - was gone.

A whole journey and I f*cked up the one important day.



No time machine.

I suffocated.

I ordered myself to stop breathing.

My heart broke.

I vomited.

I died.

I will spare you the horror of my night. It was the endless love and support of my wife over the phone that kept me a little sane. This little piece which I took with me in the morning to have breakfast. The decision was made. I would go to Mixquic seeking to do the most I could, to make it happen. It was this young man on a table next to me, I surprisingly told my plan and even more surprisingly asked out of the blue if he wanted to join me. He said, yes, ok.

An hour later we were on our way to Mixquic. I told him my story and he politely listened. This young man was about to become a musico and I bet he didn’t know what came over him to spend his day with a nutter instead of practicing. When we arrived I was overwhelmed by what I saw.

Cémpaspuchitl everywhere.

Mixquic will always remain the orange-golden town to me.

We made our way through to the cemetery, and I cannot describe what opened up inside of me. I was given another chance. I was given the opportunity to fulfill what I had promised. Most of all it was what I experienced, what I saw, what I heard, what I smelled and what I felt.

In front of me was a land of orange and purple and red.

One by one the graves were decorated with either an image made of petals or a path and candles. Some were still be cleaned up and families gathered together to prepare for the night. It was midday and the air was full of typical scents already. November air. Incense sticks. Cémpaspuchitl.

My heart was beating strongly. And I remember I crying tears of relief and gratefulness. Seeing picture frames on the tombs which showed children, elderly and young adults I couldn’t prevent the feeling of being somehow an invader, as each place had its own story, and I wasn’t even part of the history of Mixquic.

To the sides were stone walls and I climbed upon one. Asking Julio for his understanding and speaking him free of any obligation he might felt he had to take up, he still joined me. And while we sat there, this rather introverted man started to share some of his story with me. It touched me deeply. In front of me was a young man who just confessed to me that spending the day with me in total focus on my bond with my grandma and the meaning of the day of the dead, made him realised that he had missed a very important person in his life, his abuelo, his granddad.

We shared stories about our ancestors and how they influenced us, what we learned and what we wished them to have in the world apart from us. And then I realised it when we spoke. He must have been an angel who had been sent out for me.

Later I would set up my altar and lit a candle for my abuela. We spend hours on the walls watching the families and the night from slightly above. Every now and again someone would approach us and I would tell them our story. I shared some offerings from Germany with the Mexicans (and was sure Grandma wouldn’t mind *lol* - indeed she was such a generous human being) and we would exchange some thoughts. We received a lot of love that night and it was again one of the warm experiences I made in México.

That night I didn’t feel anything but blessed, and when it was time, I could let go. I said goodbye to Grandma and told her that I loved her. And I thanked her. That I was able to share my Mexico with her. And it filled me with joy that some people of México, the country I feel home, got to know her story. That a little bit, she was known to my other familia. That was bridging my worlds. When I left the altar behind, I felt calm. She was at the greatest place.

That night I slept in peace.

This day could have not been more perfect than it was.

The warmth of Mexican culture is for me unbeatable. And I wish everyone a little piece of experience like that which they can hold forever. If you don’t believe me, go. Go to México. And be open. Believe me, you will never forget.

Today, back here in my room, abuelita has been here on the altar for a few days. The candle flickers, the coffee, and the flowers fill this room in London. Yet I hope abuelita, she will have found her way from the world of the dead to Mixquic to explore México a little more. Maybe she will step by to see where we choose to live in México in the future.

You know, these nights she is free. To wonder. To say hello. Despite a body which limits her.

She might be one of the few people who have never been to México alive, yet will find their way there. Maybe Adrian has put her photo on the family altar and she will come back to Mixquic.

Adrian? Yes.

A week after my journey to México, back in Hamburg, I received an email. “We have found your grandmas photo, and we thought you want to know we took her home. She is safe.”

Another young man, he had read through my note which I had left next to the altar so the people of Mixquic would not feel offended. I explained our journey and asked for permission and thanked for their warmth. I signed the note.

Adrian googled my name. And sent me that email.




Many are in México.

I will go back to Mixquic and thanks to the Mexican hearts and culture I can now say, grandma and I are the tiniest pieces of this town's history.

Bienvenida, abuelita.

All is :love: is all,

Mia xx

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