A New York-Style Ofrenda

A New York-Style Ofrenda

by Andrea Tam

There are many ways to process the loss of a loved one.


"It's New York-style cheesecake or die! Amelia, how can you not love New York-style cheesecake? It is the best cheesecake in the world!" said Samuel. Amelia remembered how her brother, Samuel, used to argue with her about which cheesecake was the best as she placed a slice of it on the ofrenda.

An ofrenda (Spanish: "offering") is the offering placed on a home altar during the annual and traditionally Mexican Día de los Muertos celebration.

November 1 marks the beginning of Día de los Muertos or Day of the Dead in Mexico. This annual tradition dates back to pre-colonial Mexico. They believed that the soul of a dead loved one returned to their family for a day of celebration. The family builds an ofrenda and puts their beloved's favorite items on it to invite the soul to visit them.

Amelia created an ofrenda for Samuel. The theme was New York since it was his favorite city in the world, and he had made it his home. A while ago, Samuel landed an internship with a New York City brokerage firm. They liked him and later offered him a job. He accepted it and moved to the Lower East Side in Manhattan.

Amelia pulled a box out of the closet and opened it. She pulled out a silver frame with an autographed picture of Samuel with Derek Jeter from 2012. God, how he loved the Yankees! Next, she pulled out a license plate in the shape of a New York City taxi. Their Dad bought it for Samuel after one of his many business trips to the city. Samuel had hung it on one of his bedroom walls. And then she pulled out a plastic Statue of Liberty souvenir, a Big Apple sweatshirt, and his NY Yankees baseball hat. She put all of them on the altar and lit some votive candles.

Amelia went into the other room, returned with a load of bread, a pitcher of water, and a bouquet of Marigolds placed them on the ofrenda and sprinkled some petals on the floor. The flower’s fragrance and petals are supposed to attract souls to the ofrenda. Their bright and cheery color also celebrates life instead of feeling bitter about death. And they attract butterflies.

Mariposas, also known as Monarch Butterflies, are associated with Dia de los Muertos because their migration arrives in Mexico around the same time as the celebration. Butterflies are a sign of loved ones who have passed over and are powerful spiritual symbols that represent transformation. Butterflies also reminded Amelia of Samuel. When he was a little boy, he caught caterpillars, put them in a glass jar with a fine mesh cover, and released them after they transformed into butterflies. Ever since Samuel died, Amelia saw an abundance of mariposas. She knew it was a sign that Samuel was near.

"Hey Siri, play my 'Sam's New York' playlist on Spotify.” 'Empire State of Mind,' by Jay-Z and Alicia Keys, started playing. Amelia kind of hated that song, but Samuel loved it. She chuckled as she remembered Samuel singing along with it. Ugh! He had no pitch and sang off-key, but he made for it with his infectious enthusiasm and a big smile.

Amelia closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and stood still next to her ofrenda. Samuel was here. She felt his presence. Her eyes welled up with tears as she whispered, "Sam, I miss you. Thank you for showing up. Do you like the ofrenda?"

Amelia closed her eyes, breathed deeply, stood still, and soaked up the feeling of being with Samuel again. She never knew how long this moment would last, but this time she was going to do everything she could to be present and enjoy the moment. 

There are many ways to process loss, like Amelia processing the loss of her brother by annually creating an ofrenda on Dia de los Muertos. If you or someone you know is processing loss, consider a gift box filled with positive rituals, care, and love. Sometimes, the simple act of giving one of our gift boxes helps someone find a way of processing loss.

Thank you for reading,


Andrea Tam
Founder @ Robiins
Processing loss. One gift box at a time.™




Andrea Tam
Andrea Tam

Author




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