A Celestial Psychological Birthday Party: My Mom’s Death Anniversary

Punxsutawney Phil emerged from his burrow in Pennsylvania this morning and saw his beautiful shadow; thus predicting an early spring arrival. Boy, am I excited by that news. Could really use it.

Today, besides Punxsutawney Phil’s shadow dancing, is also the two-year anniversary of when my “Puerto Rican Cowgirl” Mom left this world. Of course, it’s a day of mourning and heavy thoughts. But it’s also a day of remembrance of what she meant and how I honor her each day by putting 100% effort into everything I do. That’s why I am planning a private little “celestial birthday party”. A more sober description is that of a Death Anniversary reflection which, in several Asian and African cultures, is quite customary.

In India, for example, there is the Shraddhyaa Kriyate Yaa Saa; where a private ceremony is performed by the family members of the departed soul. It is oftentimes performed by the eldest son and other siblings join in offering prayers together. In Vietnam, a death anniversary is called a gio where favorite foods of the deceased person being honored are prepared and sticks of incense are burned in honor of the deceased person. In Judaism also, there is a widely practiced custom, where mourners light a special candle that burns for 24 hours, called a “Yahrzeit candle”. In Madagascar, their death anniversary ritual is called famadihana where a deceased family member’s remains may be exhumed to be periodically re-wrapped in fresh silk shrouds before being replaced in the tomb. The anniversary also entails a celebratory party where rum may be served and a singing troupe performs.

Having some kind of annual memorial on a death anniversary doesn’t work for everyone, but it is helpful for many people. Below is my celestial birthday party ritual for my mom’s death anniversary.

1. I am going to put together a meal she would have done a song and dance for. These items don’t really go together but they were what she loved. I still have one of my last memories of her just wildly enjoying her fried egg sandwich. It was one of her favorite New York things to eat. People often say it’s the little things in life that get you through. Let me tell you that fried egg sandwich was everything to her. It was quintessential New York and she would devour it with gusto.

a. Tostones
b. Pollo guisado (chicken stew)
c. Little Debbie cakes
d. Fried egg sandwich
e. Malta
f. White rice
g. Rum (actually she hated alcohol, but I’d like to follow the Madagascar tradition here)

2. I am going to view the old videos and photos that I have of her. She hated posing for photos but I did manage to sneak some photos and video recordings in. Those recordings where she didn’t know she was being recorded are the best ones, actually. Those videos showcase her in the raw moments of life. No posing, just her and her crazy off-the-beaten-track stories (like the time she told us there was an FBI agent hanging out in her backyard).

3. I am going to play some country western music. She just loved the heartache and angst expressed in that genre of music. Growing up in the South Bronx, I just didn’t get it. Now, I do have it on my playlist rotation. I think she would just adore that new “Nashville” show and its corresponding song entitled “Wrong Song.” It would have been a hoot for her.

4. I am going to light a Botanica candle in her honor and just remember where I came from.

5. I am going to spread some more of her ashes. Last year, I spread her ashes in Texas because it as her favorite state. Everything “cowboy” just fascinated her to no end. But this year, I may just spread her ashes in the Bronx River because at the end of it all she was a Nuyorican. She truly felt there was no place like New York and she instilled that love of New York in me. Yesterday, when former New York Mayor Ed Koch passed away, I thought back to my mom and how she would have been devastated. May he rest in peace.

6. I am going to go purchase the Connect Four game. See, growing up I was an only child till the age of ten. She was my playmate. I was her everything. We played Mastermind, Boggle, Chutes and Ladders. But Connect Four, that was our game. I like to state, that it was through that game that I became extremely competitive and developed a bit of my “Type A” personality. Now it is time to introduce my son to it.

7. Lastly, I am going to share with my son some grandma stories and walk him through each of the bits above. By sharing those stories, she will live on in his heart and thus not really die.

Death ends a life, not a relationship.

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