Category Archives: Day of the Dead Altar

Small Comforts

If you read my post yesterday, you know that we lost Diego on Saturday. When I took him to the vet thinking he had a bad tooth, I discovered his lungs were actually riddled with cancer and we had to make the decision to save him from a more agonizing slow death over the next two weeks. Obviously, I was devastated and as I completed the shrine for my friend Gloria, who died a few weeks ago and my husband Bob and parents as well as my sister Betty and her husband Denis, Leah and Ryan completed side shrines for their own departed family and shrines.

On Sunday, we went to a talk about death and the importance of making our life all we wish it to be and approaching Dia de Muertos as a celebration of our lost loved ones rather than a mourning. We then went to lunch and as we left the restaurant, we decided to visit a small crafts fair we saw set up in a tent a short way away. As Leah and Ryan browsed the aisles, I was drawn to a booth of small rescue dogs available for adoption. I watched little boys playing with five small pit bull puppies and then saw a beautiful woman approach with a small chocolate brown dog almost the twin sister to Zoe. She explained that it, too, was a rescue dog she’d found abandoned on the streets of Guadalajara. Her name was Chocolate and she was presumed to be about a year old. When she was spade, they had discovered she was pregnant with three puppies, all too small for survival.

Wanting to show her to Ryan and Leah, I asked if I could take her for a walk, and the lady said yes. I thought I would say I’d found a new dog, jokingly, but of course the joke was on me as we all fell in love with her. It was all Ryan could do to keep Leah from adopting one of the tiny pit bull puppies. At any rate, with no idea at all of replacing Diego, the synchronicity of finding a dog named Chocolaté—the same name as the dog stolen from my yard nineteen years before—who needed a home just as Diego had eleven years before, created the decision to honor Diego’s leaving with the arrival of another in need of a home, and so we welcomed Chocolaté into our lives as a living memorial to Diego. R.I.P.. dear friend and companion.

This morning, Chocolate claims Zoe’s favorite spot, nuzzled into Mom’s neck and hair.

Small Comforts

On this particular Dia de los Muertos, death feels more personal, less a remembrance of past losses and more a dwelling with a recent one. The new little dog buries herself closer, her snout beneath my neck, nose snuggled into my hair. Her long pointed ear brushes my glasses frame.

Finally stilled from the excitement of a new sister who is nearly a reflected shadow of herself, Zoe sleeps in the long cavern between my knees and ankles so I am swaddled in small dogs. Not a recompense for the loss of my old friend Diego, but rather a slight adjustment of attention, a comfort of sorts, consolation like the hug of that stranger in the vet’s office yesterday morning, after we had sent Diego to his final sleep.

Not the same thing as Diego’s past gentle nuzzles for attention as I lay in the hammock, fitting in those moments of mutual attention before Zoe’s insertion of herself between us, demanding attention from us both. Here is no filling of an empty space, but rather the creation of a new one in my life. One not unaccompanied by problems, for although she shares Diego’s calm exterior, she also shares Zoe’s propensity for mischief. Minutes after we arrived home from the craft fair where I found her attached to the leash of the Guadalajara vet who had rescued her from the street and harbored her as she looked for a new home for her, I found her on top of the the altar, eating the dead bread in front of my friend Gloria’s picture, ignoring the dog bones in front of Diego’s. The papel picado on the front of the altar had been shredded by her ascent, the pot of marigolds turned on its side. 

Just that morning, Zoe had stood to snatch the bread from in front of the side altar Ryan had constructed for his grandmother and friend. Peas in a pod, these two chiweenies, one blonde, one the color of chocolate, like her name, pronounced Chahcōlah’tay, in the Spanish manner. 

Now as I lie in bed, this new intruder whistles into my ear with each breath, huffing as though it is an effort, or like blowing out birthday candles, puff by puff. It is a trial joining. If it doesn’t work out, I have the kind doctor’s phone number who promises to drive back from Guadalajara to reclaim her. She breathes wheezingly into my ear, as though one time for each second of her short life. 

I recall Diego’s gentled breathing there on the floor of the vet’s office. All of us coming down to her comfortable level as we administered that last relief, her lungs filled with a foreshadowing of an otherwise more painful death. So it is myself I cry for as the tears slide out again––an indulgence I can’t seem to stop. The new small dog adjusts her ear away as my sideways tears drip onto it. She nuzzles closer, and Zoe digs herself deeper. Small comforts in an inevitable world.



While looking for my favorite photo of Diego, which I still haven’t found, I came upon this laudatory poem written in his honor a few years ago, so it seemed fitting to publish it again. Here is a link:

Dearly Missing Diego, Oct 29, 2022

Dearly Missing Diego

No amount of paranormal could make this holiday worse.
It carries with it sadness I don’t have to rehearse.
I do not fear the skeletons who wander far and near
Has-been-dearly-departeds are not the ones I fear.

Made-up horrors all take flight and vanish o’er the hill
as I recall his silent passage over the kitchen sill
to steal three dozen cookies that no doubt he found yummy
since when he next passed over it, they were in his tummy.

Whole chickens and entire plates of Christmas eats
vanished as he made them his own personal treats.
For eleven years, he upgraded my life
with gentle affection that mitigated strife.

Life oscillates between the pleasure and the pain
as I have to lose a much-loved one again.
Dear Diego passed from us this morning suddenly,
with a brutal speed that I did not foresee.

R.I.P. my lovely friend. Milk Bones are piled up
under your altar picture, just there for you to sup.
My neighbors say when I drive up after it is dark,
they will not know I’m safe at home without your greeting bark.

You won’t be there to moderate Zoe and Morrie’s spats.
And there will be one fewer to bark at owls and bats.
No one will nudge my hand for pats quite the way you do,
and you’ll be missed forever in the family queue.

R.I.P. Diego, Oct 29, 2022

Prompt words for today are oscillate, flight, hill, paranormal, upgrade and fear.

DOD Decorations: JNWs Halloween Challenge, Oct 22, 2016

Decorations are what the Day of the Dead is about.  Weeks are spent in preparation, and the display is colorful, excessive and heartfelt. These photos are of two of my own altars as well as photos I took in Patzcuaro, Michoacan, as decorations were being prepared and completed.

DOD Altar

                                                           DOD Altar

In my enthusiasm for making an altar for complete (and dead) strangers, I completely forgot to light my candles on my own altar for my mother and my husband Bob, who both died in 2001––the year I moved to Mexico––and my dad, who died in 1974. I had little electric candles that all burned out in the week I’ve had them lit, so it was time to substitute real fire!  Here it is.

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