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March 31, 2010

We all have to remember in our own way

A tree stands in the median on I-25, north of Las Cruces, not quite to Radium Springs.

It's a scrubby little tree, maybe a mesquite or a juniper. You know, the kind of hardy tree you see out there in the New Mexico desert. Something tenacious.

This particular tree stands out because it's festooned with tinsel and garland.

It's been that way for several years. I've seen it, driven past it several times, actually.

The first time I saw it, the time of year wasn't much past Christmas, so I figured it was a leftover holiday decoration.

But when I saw it again a few years later, I realized it wasn't just leftover holiday decorations, but something more serious. I knew it was a roadside shrine often found in our fair New Mexico.

The roadside shrine is a memorial located where someone has lost their life out there on the roads. It's a pretty common sight in New Mexico.

It's a tradition I grew up with and so it's never occurred to me to question it. I find outside the borders of my homestate, it's questioned. A lot.

Questions of taste and decency, actually. Whether it's appropriate, or not, to put one's grief so garishly on display.

See, I think we in our American culture have really weird and uptight ideas about death and dying. Ok, it's probably because I grew up in the cultures of New Mexico that I feel that way.

But I've always really appreciated the Hispanic and Latino cultures celebrating and remembering their loved ones who have moved on. I appreciate the ability to show grief openly without remorse or embarrassment.

Dia de los Muertos offrendas and roadside shrines are simply the outward display of deeply held cultural beliefs. Beliefs such as that the dead have moved on to another world, but a world that is not so far away from our own.

A woman is comforted, perhaps, by knowing that her child, while not in her arms, is not that far away. While she remembers with a keening loss the child who was taken away, she can still bake bread and place sweets on an offrenda, and it helps her cope.

A mourning wife can drive to the spot where her husband met his end, and remember him. She refreshes the shiny bits of paper, and can feel her husband not so far away.

I think this is healthy, personally, and I don’t find it to be weird. I find it to be beautiful.

Those roadside shrines are called descansos. They aren't just tacky plastic crosses and brightly shining tinsel. For the family that constructed the shrine, they are an essential part of the grieving process.

The garlanded tree located in I-25 highway median is a descanso to honor the memory of a child.

The shrine in the photo at the end of this post honors two kids who rolled their ATV by the irrigation banks on the Bosque in Los Lunas.

When someone you truly love dies, the grief never goes away. It tends to ebb and flow, welling up sometimes, overwhelming. Other times, the volume is turned down and you can almost, but not quite, forget.

I think we all have to find our own way of grieving.

No one can say who is right or wrong.

Source: Las Cruces Sun News

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All content of Oh Fair New Mexico by Karen Fayeth is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.