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How Day of the Dead ofrendas pay tribute to those lost to COVID-19: 'People only die the day you forget them'

Laura Rodríguez Presa, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Parenting News

CHICAGO — A bouquet and votive candles with an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe sit near the wedding portrait of Gardenia Rangel’s parents on a small table in the living room of their old home.

The electric candles haven’t been turned off since her mother and father both died of COVID-19 last February. Every so often, Rangel plays mariachi music to remember them.

They loved Mexican music, their daughter said.

“I think about them every single day,” Rangel said. “But I never want to stop missing them because they say that people only die the day you forget them.”

Rangel wants to find a way to celebrate her parents’ life this upcoming Day of The Dead by creating an ofrenda — an altar to honor the deceased — and planning a family gathering to share their legacy of love.

Hundreds of other Chicagoans lost to the coronavirus are also being remembered as part of Day of The Dead ofrendas throughout the region. Some families are setting up an altar for the first time, while others continue the Mexican tradition that is no longer solely folkloric, given the many deaths related to COVID-19.


“This past year, thousands of people shared the pain of suddenly losing a loved one and they have realized — despite all of our differences — that Día de los Muertos is meant to bring some sort of comfort; to remember those who are gone and celebrate the time they spent with us and cherish the moments we spent together,” said Cesáreo Moreno, the visual arts director of the National Museum of Mexican Art.

Moreno curated a special exhibit at the museum to pay tribute to those who died from COVID-19 in Mexico and the United States with ofrendas and other art installations.

According to tradition, it is believed that on the Day of the Dead, Nov. 2, families welcome back the souls of their deceased relatives to spend time with their loved ones, eat their favorite food, and have a celebration of life.

The exhibit “Día de Muertos — A Time to Grieve & Remember” (through Dec. 12) marks the 35th annual Day of the Dead exhibition at the museum. This year it features a COVID Memorial ofrenda that has more than 200 photos of people who died from the virus and have a connection to Chicago or the museum.


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