Giving Thanks and Remembering: Happy Thanksgiving to All

In Mexico we say, gracias, thank you. We give thanks for el día de acción de gracias, which is how our Oaxaca friends greet us.  May your day with family and friends be stuffed with turkey, gratitude, peace, laughter and remembrance for those who came before you to give you life, wherever you are.


I hope whatever you choose to eat — guajolote, turkey, turducken or tofucken — be delicious and abundant. An abundant life is a blessing to appreciate and to help give to others.


Our mom was buried a week ago in Santa Cruz, California. She died peacefully on November 15, three months before her 100th birthday. Her life was long and meaningful. We are missing her. Today we celebrate and remember.


Today we will give special thanks for her life and ours.  Listen to I’m standing on the shoulders of the ones who came before me by Grammy Award-winning Cantor Doug Cotler. We will share memories, look at photos, play Scrabble — our mom’s favorite game, and how she honed her amazing vocabulary and helped us develop ours.  In the last six months she taught us the word risible and used it frequently. We all laughed.


I am here with my son, sister, brother and brother-in-law. This last gift from our mother was to bring us together for Thanksgiving, a first for all of us.


In the past weeks as I was with our mom, helping her, my sister and brother to ease her to end of life, I realized how important it is to be in Oaxaca for Day of the Dead. It was even more meaningful this year as I prepared to make the journey to California knowing what would come.


As I was with my mother as she made her journey, I realized this was another gift she gave me — how to leave us at peace and with dignity.


I was raised in a home where science was truth and mysticism was for the ultra-religious. Concrete proof was required to test all beliefs. Things change. I have learned from the Zapotecs who embrace the spirit world and blend it into a continuum of life and death. For me now, the ethereal is more acceptable than the concrete. Someone I knew once said, the dead don’t care. I believe they do. To know that they care is to acknowledge that we cared about and loved them.


Now, I have a different experience and I’m inclined to believe that our parent’s molecules are mingled with earth and sky, that the soul, the spirit, the essense of their being and those of our ancestors are with me forever. There is much I do not know about life and death.  Life is a mystery and death a destination.

I know that I will visit my mother and she will visit me each year when I build a memory altar with food, copal, candles and a sense of  life as mystery. But this won’t be the only time either.


I am thinking of creating a Day of the Dead memory and rituals program next year to examine the way Mexico honors and remembers the deceased. I want to contrast this with how we approach death and dying in the El Norte culture. If you like this idea, please let me know!


25 responses to “Giving Thanks and Remembering: Happy Thanksgiving to All

  1. The photos of your mom are angelic. I totally agree, the very atoms of our ancestors (and other loved ones) are in the air we breathe and the coffee we drink, embracing us continually. I find that very comforting.
    Death as destination…
    As I get older, that makes it somewhat less frightening.
    Thank you for this post.

    • Hi, Elaine, thanks for this comment. Yes, and my Zapotec friends tell me “es la ley de la vida” and
      “todos vamos por el mismo camino” which means, it’s the law of life and we all go on along the same road. I find that to be comforting, too, along with the atoms of our ancestors traveling with us along this road. I appreciate your point of view. -Norma

  2. Such beautiful words, Norma. I am sorry about your mother, she looks adorable in those pictures.
    I send you and your family my love.

  3. dear norma,

    thank you for sharing! many blessings to your mom, family and you! we celebrated dia de los muertos this year.
    aloha, carolyn

  4. Dear Norma,

    Thank you for your beautiful word. I echo the sentiments expressed already by the others in this post; your mother does look like a lovely woman who hopefully had a full a joyful life.
    I too have been raised in a family where science and fact are the grounding to what we believe in. Hence I would very much be interested in understanding how cultures and belief systems contrast to this. Hopefully I will get a small sense of this when I am in Oaxaca in mid-December this year.


  5. Norma, Thanks for sharing the news of your Mother’s passing.
    She has a wonderful smile and she raised an extraordinary daughter! I only wish I had known her. All the best to you and your family. I hope our path’s cross again soon.
    Much Love, Simone

  6. Oh how this writing is helping me! I”m on my way to Buffalo to be with my 103 year old father who was taken to the hospital yesterday with pneumonia. He may pull through once more since he seems to have 9 lives but I need to be there for whatever happens and I’ll take your thoughts with me for support. Thank you for sharing so deeply and eloquently.
    See you in February.

    • Dearest Ruth, I’m sorry for such a tardy reply. I’m holding you and your father in my heart. Life is so miraculous. May each moment you are with him be a blessing. I know that by your being there he will feel the gift of your love and caring. Un beso, Norma

  7. Dear Norma,
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts about your mother they helped me clarify thoughts and feeling that rumble through my mind.
    I hope to meet you in Oaxaca in December if you have returned.

    again thanks and love,

  8. Hi Norma – I missed you and think your idea of celebrating your mom’s life during the Day of the Dead events she will love and so will you.

    Missed you and hugs,


  9. Norma–Your Mom looks like such a lovely woman. Thanks for sharing the photos and your touching words. What a fitting way to celebrate your mother–the ritual you describe is a beautiful, thoughtful and profound to go through this life changing experience. It epitomizes grace I think.

  10. Oh dear Norma,
    What a touching Thanksgiving message. Thank you for sharing about your mom’s passing, thinking of my mom too, who died at 50, lucky your mom lived twice as long.
    I’m very interested in a Memory and Rituals Day of the Dead program.
    I’d wished I had built an alter, and honored my loved ones who had passed, after reading tour beautiful Day of the Dead posts.
    I’ll start saving up now!
    Love Lynn

    • Lynn, I’ve sent you a PM. Thanks so much for this note. Our mom’s passing is a journey about a full life. I’m so sorry your mom’s was interrupted at such a young age. I know you miss her deeply. Sending love, Norma

  11. Norma–Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts about your mom, and what they engender in your thoughts about death, and life. Next year, when Dia de Los Muertos rolls around, I will be in Oaxaca again, and look forward to participating with you in looking at ritual of memory and honor for those we have lost. Meanwhile, our paths may cross in Taos where The Mountain will embrace the joy we can still feel as daughters. –Winn

  12. Dear Norma,

    Many thanks for sharing this with us.

    We wait for your return.

    Jo Ann and Tom

  13. norma…..
    you are in my thoughts and prayers as we celebrate this day of gratitude and blessings…..
    your idea of ritual is a good one….. reading your memories of your mother and your beliefs reminded me of my parents…… and the way i remember them…..
    peace and many blessings to us all!

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