Building my 1st ofrenda away from home

photo of an ofrenda
Paloma Torres/Staff

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This year was the first time I was away from home for Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). It was also the first time I would have to honor one of the most important people in my life on this day: my grandmother. 

Día de los Muertos is a Mexican holiday that occurs every year Nov. 1 and Nov. 2, the first day for children and the second for adults. Traditionally, the families of loved ones who have passed construct ofrendas, or altars, in their honor. The ofrendas are brilliantly lit with bright colors and candles, and feature photos of loved ones and their favorite foods, things that remind the family of them, marigolds, pan de muerto (Mexican sweet bread) and colorful papel picado (the decorative Mexican banners). It is believed that during the celebration, the spirits of those who you are commemorating are able to visit our physical world. It is a celebratory day, in which you remember those you have lost and honor their memory with family and friends. It is not meant to be painful, but instead a celebration of the wonderful life they have lived. 

My grandmother’s death has been especially difficult for me given our close relationship. Being away from home during much of the grieving process has not made it any easier. I thought that by creating my own ofrenda for her here at school, I would feel more connected to her. I wanted to remember her not with a heavy heart, but with love and amazement for the precious life she lived and the beautiful woman she was. 

So the day before, I set out and gathered all of the necessary items for my altar and began building it. I brought out some of her old jewelry that she had given me right before she passed away as well as some of her favorite things. To my wonderful surprise, my roommates joined me in making paper flowers for the altar. I played her favorite music as we decorated the altar and ate some of the extra pan de muerto I had bought. I was so touched by my roommates’ support and even more so when they asked if they could join me in placing some of their own photos of those they had lost. 

Although none of my roommates are of Mexican descent, their respect and admiration for this tradition moved me. In a time when I have felt the most disconnected from my family and heritage, they came together to help me in any way they could. The result was a beautiful ofrenda sitting in our sunroom and a memory that will stay with me forever.

Contact Paloma Torres at [email protected].