Day of the Dead can inspire us to cope with grief

Part Three of a three-part series on how grief support looks to traditions like Day of the Dead to help people learn new coping skills.

Read Part One “Day of the Dead is a celebration of life”

Read Part Two “Day of the Dead may provide insights into grieving”

grief supportBy Denise Brown  MA-ATR, Art Therapist/Grief Support Specialist and Wanda Kelsey-Mendez, Communications Manager with Kansas City Hospice & Palliative Care

In Part One, we discussed The Day of the Dead, or El Día de Los Muertos, a Mexican holiday that honors the dead.  You don’t need to be Latino to celebrate Day of the Dead. But perhaps you can find inspiration from this colorful tradition. We discussed how the movie “Coco” makes some of the concepts of Day of the Dead approachable for both children and adults.

In Part Two, we explored the traditions while discussing how they might provide a different perspective for anyone grieving a loved one. Now in Part Three, we’ll look at some of the specific elements of the celebration and give suggestions on incorporating new traditions into your life.

Some things associated with the Day of the Dead:

Ofrenda or altars – flowers, candles, food, drinks, photos, and personal mementos of those remembered. They can be simple or very elaborate. Ofrenda means offerings and is not meant for worship.

Marigolds – the orange color of Mexican marigolds help attract the soul to the offering table. The color and scent of flowers aids remembrance.

Offerings – food or gifts that the loved one enjoyed are part of the altar and festivities. The food is for the souls, so although eaten by the living, it is thought to have no nutritional value. It’s traditional to have the foods and treats that the deceased love.

Catrinas – skeletons dressed in fancy clothing. The image reminds us that death is for the rich and powerful as well as the average person.

Sugar Skulls or calavera – decorated sugar skulls may be given as a gift to both living and dead. The sweet candy is a balance to the bitterness of death.

Papel picado – hand-cut paper banners usually depict happy scenes of skeletons.

Monarch butterflies – the Monarchs return to Mexico each year near the Day of the Dead. They complete a multi-year migration from Mexico to Canada and back. And, they symbolize the souls of the departed coming home.

Find a creative and loving way to remember people

Perhaps Coco and Day of the Dead will inspire you to find different ways to honor and remember loved ones. Here are some suggestions:

  • Enlarge and frame a favorite photo for the mantle and add in some creative touches
  • Create a special remembrance box for mementos – something you can see and touch
  • Bake grandma’s favorite pie for Thanksgiving and tell a story about her
  • Take the family out to dad’s favorite restaurant on Fathers Day and remember the joke he used to tell
  • Give everyone a pair of socks for the holidays, just like mom used to do
  • Create a memory ornament for the Christmas tree
  • Fill a vase with your wife’s favorite flowers on her birthday
  • Raise a special toast on your loved one’s favorite holiday
  • Plant a tree or special flower that reminds you of your loved one
  • Keep telling the family stories, no matter how many times people have heard them
  • Keep the memories alive in your heart and mind
  • Remember that’s it’s okay to laugh

Learn more about this fascinating tradition.

Mattie Rhodes Art Center offers an annual art exhibit of ofrendas created by local families and artists. They also host a street fair. The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art offers an interactive exhibit each year featuring art from Day of the Dead.

We’re here to help

Kansas City Hospice, Solace House and our Passages program are great sources for grief support. We have a grief newsletter, Journeys, that is available by email and online. Sign up for email. You can also subscribe to this blog for a variety of topics. Not sure what support you may need? Just give us a call at 816.363.2600.

Sobre Nosotros

Grief Support



  1. Frances on November 2, 2018 at 12:50 pm

    Thank you for this! Ours is a family with stories and it really lifts the heart to retell the old stories and laugh with each other. I keep a couple of photos and mementoes on my desk year round that make me smile when I think of those special people!

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