Lifting Our Spirits on Día de los Muertos

by Nikki Mark

Dia de los Muertos

Día de los Muertos is coming up on November 1st and 2nd this week and I am getting ready to celebrate!


Because according to Mexican tradition AND the animated Disney film Coco, “Día de los Muertos is the one night of the year our ancestors can come visit us!”

I know this may sound crazy to some of you, but here’s the deal.

Even if you haven’t lost a loved one in this lifetime with whom you would do anything to connect, we all have ancestors – and whether we have had the pleasure of knowing them or not, they are still part of our family and impacting our lives.

Think about it.

Our ancestors don’t just innocently pass down their genes. They also bless us with their talents and interests. They influence our belief systems and economic circumstances (for better or worse). Some even burden us with their challenges and traumas (don’t get me started on the cycle of loss that somehow transferred from my great-great-grandparents to me!).

Whatever our respective family dynamics may be, I have learned on this alternative healing journey of mine that getting to know our ancestors is an easy and playful way to learn more about ourselves too.   

I never knew any of this until after my twelve-year-old son passed away.  Only then did I begin to contemplate whether the human spirit really lives on. As I searched for proof, I began to question if it’s possible for spirits to keep growing and learning together even if they are in different worlds, and if so, could a regular person like me learn how to do so? 

As I contemplated these rather large and existential kinds of questions, a middle school friend of my son’s told me a story that captured my imagination, pointed me in an interesting direction, and introduced me to the very festive, very healing, and very family-oriented Mexican holiday, Día de los Muertos.    

When I sat down with my eldest son’s very articulate middle school friend, she told me, “I was at the mall with your son and a group of friends. We were debating which movie to see.  All of us wanted to see a horror film except for your son who kept trying to convince us to see this movie Coco. He said it was one of his favorite movies about a boy our age who played guitar, had the cutest grandmother ever, and was visiting his ancestors in the afterlife to end a ban on music that had been passed down in his family for generations.”

“Your son got outvoted,” his girlfriend laughed, “But after the horror film ended and everyone complained about how terrible it was, Tommy flashed his giant smile and said, “I told you we should have seen Coco.”

That’s when his friend realized how soulful my son could be, not to mention funny.

Having never seen Coco, I later grabbed a box of Kleenex, hunkered down on my couch, and watched the film all by myself. 

As the twelve-year-old boy in the movie sang and played guitar like my son used to do, I immediately understood why the story captured my son’s heart. And when another character in the film declared that “Día de los Muertos is the one night of the year our ancestors can come visit us!” it immediately captured mine too.    

As the talented and outgoing boy in the film learned more about his ancestors and developed a relationship with them, my imagination plunged deeper into the notion of an afterlife. 

What if the veil between our worlds really is the thinnest on Día de los Muertos? I wondered.

What if my son and my ancestors are waiting to celebrate just like the ones in the film?

The possibilities lifted my grieving spirit and inspired me to host a small Día de los Muertos gathering at my home later that year.

“Let’s order Mexican food,” one girlfriend suggested.

“I’ll make the margaritas,” offered another.

Together we made a simple altar with candles, fresh flowers and photographs of ancestors and loved ones who have passed.  A few of us layered in sweets and drinks that we knew our deceased family members loved.  Others contributed items representing hobbies and favorite interests.   

As the rest of our neighborhood invested in Halloween and the spookiness of death, we connected with our ancestors and celebrated the eternal nature of life.

As the evening went on and the lights in my home began to flicker, I sensed that my ancestors were thrilled. And the following day, when I looked back through photos that I had taken of the evening and saw globes of lights dancing around the room, my imagination grew and concluded, These balls of light must be our ancestors’ spirits… What else could they be?!

Every year since, I’ve hosted a small Día de los Muertos gathering for friends, and every year the holiday just keeps getting better. 

So does my Coco story!

A year or so after that first Día de los Muertos party, I had an incredible reading with a medium located in New Jersey.

At some point in the reading the medium asked me, “What’s up with the dog next door?”  

“What do you mean?” I responded.

“Your son keeps talking about the dog next door. Did your neighbors get a new dog or something?”

“Yes,” I said. “A few weeks ago.”

“Why would your son be talking about your neighbor’s dog? Is there something special about it?”

I thought I knew where he was heading but waited to see.

“What’s the dog’s name? Something about the name is making your son smile?”

“Yes!” I responded enthusiastically. “The dog’s name is Coco and that was one of my son’s favorite movies.”

You can’t make this stuff up.

While scientists haven’t yet figured out how to measure consciousness and I can’t show physical proof that the human spirit lives on (although I can share photographs with the globes of light if you want to see them🤗), I can tell you that there is nothing to lose by celebrating Día de los Muertos and so much to gain. 

As Coco enlightened me, “If there’s no one left in the living world to remember you, you disappear from the world.  We have the power to change that.”

So, if it speaks to you this upcoming week, light a candle, put up some photos of your ancestors and loved ones lost, make a toast, and feel your spirits lift as you honor and celebrate their lives, and learn from them.

Even if you don’t believe in the spiritual nature of the holiday, you’ll be creating a family tradition which just may help ensure that your family line will never forget you too. 🥰

4 thoughts on “Lifting Our Spirits on Día de los Muertos”

  1. Dear Nikki,

    After coming across your IG for the first time today…accidentally…I have spent hours reading through your blogs, crying over your loss, and telling your son he shouldn’t have died. Yes, it seems to be one of the crazy things I do. My friend’s son died at 16 many years ago, and I have spent a lot of time & energy “yelling” at him for dying. When my friend is hurting (because the passage of time doesn’t seem to make the pain any less), I promise her that she & I will both “yell” at him when we die. It makes her laugh, so I repeat it at every given chance. Anything to make her smile.

    My heart broke when I read the sentence about your beautiful son going to sleep and then never waking up. I think when we become mothers somehow every child becomes our own, and every mother’s grief becomes our own. I wish Tommy was alive. I wish I could make it happen.

    I have bought Suzanne Giesemann’s course in mediumship but haven’t started it. Now I will. If learning mediumship well can help me ease even a tiny bit of pain for someone, I should do it.

    Much love to you.

  2. Oh, and I will watch Coco. I’ll see if I can find it on Netflix or Amazon Prime tonight. Funny…I call my youngest cat “Coco”. I have 5 indoor cats, and I feed a stray kitty who comes to my door every day. In a way, he is not a “stray”. In my heart he is mine. He won’t come near me (ferals don’t), but I know he knows I love him. I know you are a dog person. 🙂 I am neither a dog person nor a cat person. I think I am an “animal & kid” person. But your mentioning “Coco” made me smile. My Coco is sitting next to me as I type this. His name is Nico. But I call him Coco. He is my brat. Now on to finding the movie Coco that I will watch in Tommy’s honor.


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