“I who did not die, who am still living,
still lying in the backseat behind all my questions,
clenching and opening one small hand.”

- Making a Fist,
Naomi Shihab Nye




Mia y la ofrenda
La ofrenda
Miguel’s truck


La Fiesta

Mia showing me a childhood photo
Mia going through childhood photos
Mia going through childhood photos
Mia going through childhood photos
Dancing at Dia de Los Muertos
Dancing at Dia de Los Muertos
Dancing at Dia de Los Muertos
Dancing at Dia de Los Muertos
Mia y la ofrenda
Mia eating tacos in her aunt’s restaurant
Light shining on candy
White rock lake
Resting on the boardwalk
Tina asleep on the boardwalk
Tina giving Mia a flower
Looking out the window
The car ride
The Perez family restaurant





Portrait of Miguel in Mexico by Mia








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Querido,



It smelled like sulfur on the
drive to the airport.


I remember the air was cool and the car was quiet. None of us had gotten any sleep and our eyes were all heavy—I remember wondering what the owner of the bodega had thought of us when we walked past earlier that morning, looking down the isles in search of a remedy for a grieving friend. 

There are moments when the body knows what’s happened before it’s been informed of it. When I had opened my eyes to the sound of her phone call the night before, I knew what had happened. But still, I picked it up with a small sliver of hope that she just had a nightmare or had stayed up all night watching a show again and needed to tell me about it. It was neither of those things, and I jumped out of bed and rushed out the door. One of us had been in the building when she found out, another a state away—one had stumbled home late from a night out, not knowing what had happened, and then there was me, who had been asleep. We all ran to the apartment at 4AM, no questions asked.

The smell of sulfur reminded me of my aunt’s farm in the Minnesota countryside—the first time I used her tap to brush my teeth I wondered why it smelled so bad. 

“The water comes from the well” she said. 

The smell was not coming from a well this time—perhaps it was just the universe nodding along to us with that sour and familiar smell. As we passed by cemeteries on the drive, which at that time felt like a cruel and unusual joke, the air passing into the back seat hit me like summer does after a long and cold winter.



A few days after we dropped her off at the airport, we were sitting outside a local bar on the picnic benches and held each other. None of us had had any proximity to a parent dying until that night when we all got a phone call from her. She sent texts as we sat there, updating us on the funeral proceedings and the food she was eating. I remember that despite the heaviness of the previous days, we were all grateful for how it brought us all together. We sat there reading her texts together for hours, remarking that only she could write about this experience so beautifully and poetically while in the midst of it, and we laughed together in a tender frustration. 

For the first week afterwards, I sat in my room for days crying and crying—to the point where my mother was worried and had to remind me that I was not experiencing the loss of a parent. I wished so badly that I could carry some of her grief so that she would experience less of it, but I couldn't. That’s the hard thing about being there for someone who is grieving, there is absolutely nothing you can do to ail their pain—all you can do is sit nearby until they need someone’s chest to cry into and help them eat.

Months later at the end of October, we were invited to come to her childhood home and celebrate “Dia De Los Muertos” or “Day of The Dead” with her family—the first one without her dad. It’s a holiday dedicated to honoring and celebrating those who have passed, and creating an Ofrenda, or Altar, to guide them back home. I made these photographs during that trip and documented the preparing of the altar, the party, and the coming together of family, friends and loved ones.

These photos are dedicated to Mia, who is my dearest friend in this life, and her dad, Miguel.





“Unable to perceive the shape of you, I find you all around me. Your presence fills my eyes with your love. It humbles my heart, for you are everywhere.”

-Jalal al-Din Rumi




Preparativos para El Día De Los Muertos

Early morning breakfast

"Are the decorations up there?"
"No, just skeletons."
Mia and the decorations
Mia and her brother Miguel try to open their Dad's shed in the dark to find the altar decorations.
What was the code?
Miguel's truck and shed
Miguel's truck
Miguel and his mom decorate la ofrenda with traditional banners
Mom and her son Miguel driving to Plaza Garibaldi, a Mexican marketplace, 
to find missing decorations for la ofrenda
Plaza Garibaldi
Plaza Garibaldi
Sarika in Plaza Garibaldi
Flat tire
Karen
Mia feeding Yumi and Karen
Karen and Yumi eating
Mia and Karen
Mia and Karen, looking out the window
Karen looking out the window

The backyard
The side yard
Mia and Max trying on wigs 
Mia and Max trying on wigs
Sarika in the kitchen
First meal out of the airport
Whataburger
Waiting for  food
Whataburger
The front yard
Miguel's pickup

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