Austen died on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving – November 25, 2014. So, no matter what date his death falls on (this year it’s Thanksgiving day), it’s the Tuesday before Thanksgiving that is the most significant.
In my November 5, 2015 post, An ‘Ofrenda’ In Honor Of Austen Berj Brooks, I explained that Dia de los Muertos, the ‘Day of the Dead’ is a Mexican holiday that is celebrated on November 1 and 2, coinciding with All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day. Here in Tucson, the tradition is richly recognized and culminates in an ‘All Souls Procession’ downtown. Family and friends gather to pray for and remember those who have died and to help support their spiritual journey. Private alters are built honoring the deceased with sugar skulls, marigolds, favorite foods and mementos. It’s a celebration of life, a joyful occasion of remembrance, in which death is recognized as a part of the natural process of living.
After seeing a Dia de los Muertos exhibit in Tucson, I was inspired to create that November 2015 post, which helped me to look outside myself and focus on Austen’s spiritual journey, his favorite foods and mementos, as the 1st year anniversary of his death approached. This year, the 7th anniversary of Austen’s death, the gallery in the warehouse where I have a studio put on a Dia de los Muertos Exhibit – A Celebration of Souls. For the exhibit, I decided to try my hand at creating a photo collage Ofrenda for Austen, focusing not just on his spirituality but his physical presence, his concrete love of sports, playing video games, his deep intelligence, his shoes, his cologne, his favorite foods, the importance to him of his family, and the love and respect we all shared for one another.
The collage was meant to highlight Austen’s life and to honor and celebrate his soul and to say ‘this is a person you might have wanted to know.’ As a piece in an art show, it clearly stood out against the painted catrinas and sugar skulls, but I did see more than a few young men stop and actually look at the collage, as if they were studying it, looking at the details and the words. And, for me, there was a quiet joy.
I know people don’t know what to say when they learn about Austen, but it’s okay to ask about him, to wonder who he was. For those who knew him, Austen remains a luminous soul in the lives of many. He reached for the stars, he enriched our lives, and we continue to celebrate his life and ours with positivity, growth and love.