How “Day of the Dead” Helps Families Grieve

November marks the beginning of “Day of the Dead,” a national holiday in Mexico where families celebrate the lives of their departed loved ones. Today we want to share a touching story from NPR about how the holiday helps families grieve.


The story is from NPR’s Vertamae Grosvenor whose son-in-law Beau was killed in a car accident the day before she was to put her 8-year-old grandson Oscar on a flight to see him. When Oscar asked why his father died, she decided to take him to Oaxaca, Mexico to experience the “Day of the Dead” holiday.

“Shortly after my mother passed in 1993, I went to Oaxaca on assignment during the Days of the Dead celebration,” Grosvenor said. “Death was everywhere. It was impossible to avoid, yet I came away comforted.”

In Oaxaca, Oscar and Vertamae saw murals that displayed death with thousands of different faces. There were altars for the dead in restaurants, homes and hotels. Family reunions were going on all over the cemetery.

“People were talking, eating, and communing with their relatives, living and dead,” Grosvenor said.

Oscar found solace building an altar to his father and seeing others grieving for their ancestors. “They’re feeling what I’m feeling, but in a different way, because somebody else died in their family,” said Oscar. “I think they’re under a lot of stress, too. So, everybody here is even.”

Grosvenor asked Oscar what he meant by being “even.” “Everybody lost a mother or father or aunt. They could die in a car accident like my dad, or they could die from breast cancer like my auntie, or they could just die normally like my great-great grandmother,” said Oscar. “It’s hard to go through. You just gotta go on. You can never give up on your ancestors.”

In their hotel room, “we built an alter for Oscar’s father, made of things we bought at the market and treasured things that we’d carried with us from home. It was Oscar’s first altar,” Grosvenor said.

“I like the altar. I hope my dad will come to eat some candy, and smell all these flowers. I hope my dad can find the altar, wherever he is,” said Oscar.

She asked Oscar if he had felt his Dad’s presence at any point. “When I was asleep, I felt a wet thing on my cheek and I felt something wrap around me. I think it was my dad giving me a hug and a kiss good night,” he said.

In the end, Vertamae and Oscar came to the “Day of the Dead” celebration, “hoping to help Oscar find an answer to why death came for his dad. We left Oaxaca without answers, but we came away comforted,” she said.

Listen to the story here.

Reprinted with permission from


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