Honoring Your Ancestors- A tribute to my mom

Title page reading "honoring your ancestors, a tribute to my mom" with a picture of two women (mother and daughter) learning on each other.

Honoring your ancestors can be helpful on your wellness journey. Grief is a big part of my life. The first significant death in my life happened when I was 14 years old when my Abuelito crossed over. That was such a pivotal time in my life. It was also when I learned how to honor my ancestors. 

Honoring your ancestors can be done in different ways including but not limited to recalling special moments, setting up an altar, calling on them during specific times, and offering gifts in their memory. Because of the toll my abuelito’s passing took on my mental health, I was committed to finding other ways to cycle through grief.

graphic of mother and daughter with the title of the blog post, "honoring your ancestors, a tribute to my mom."

My Grief Journey

One of the reasons I love celebrating Dia de Los Muertos so much is that it is a tradition to celebrate our loved ones. You spend that time preparing for the arrival of your ancestors and celebrating the life they lived. It’s a time to smile and cry at the same time. It is how honoring your ancestors can happen in a beautiful way.

My grief journey includes losing all of my grandparents and both of my parents before the age of 40. This may not seem like a lot to others who have faced loss earlier in age, but everyone deals with grief differently. 

I also believe that grieving includes not just losing loved ones. We all experienced different types of loss during the COVID-19 pandemic. Also, I think that you experience some grief when you become a mother for the first time. You are grieving the single life you once lived as you transition to being a parent. 
Grief has been a big part of my mental health challenges and also the catalyst to my wellness journey. Today, March 16 marks three years since my mom passed away, so I decided to write this blog in her honor.

My Mom

My mom was a fighter. She was a hard worker, not always by choice. Her had 7 siblings grew up in a small rural town near Sacramento, CA. Both of her parents were from Michoacan, Mexico. She later moved to Oakland, CA where she would eventually meet my dad. 

Cooking was something that came naturally to my mom. Growing up she would cook for her large family and it became a joke for our family of 5 when we had so many leftovers! My mom is best known for her salsa and her wine cake. 

At eighteen she got married and had her first child when she was 19. Having always wanted a large family and after years of infertility, she gave birth to me fifteen years later. She would call me her miracle child until 16 months after she gave birth to my brother and he would take that title since there were birthing complications during that delivery.

She worked in retail and loved styling clothes. In a recent conversation with my sister, I learned that she was interested in becoming a buyer for the department store she was working for. When my brother and I were born, she made the decision to stay home and raise us full-time. We were always well-dressed and styled from head to toe.

For every field trip and school fundraiser, my mom was the first to sign up. It got to a point where my classmates in elementary school would try to bribe me to ride in our car. She would drive us everywhere and make friends with our friend’s mothers. She thrived in community.

It was community that helped her grieve the loss of her husband of over 40 years, my dad. After a few moves, she found peace in a small townhome in a Bay Area suburb. It was there when she started exploring what life was like on her own. She joined a bocce ball league, went on daily walks with her rescue dog, and attended weekly happy hour with her new “retired” friends.

She wanted a grandchild so bad!

All the while she kept attending Sunday mass and would pray for a grandchild. She made it very clear she was waiting for that. It was truly a proud moment of mine when I got to tell her I was expecting her first grandkid. It didn’t matter that she wasn’t driving much at that time, she figured out a way to make the hour-long commute to the hospital and be there for my delivery. 

She got to live her dream for 6 months before passing away. I will never forget the smile she had on her face the first time she carried my little one in her arms. My mom was sick for many years before she crossed over. It started with breast cancer, and after kicking that cancer in the ass, she developed a rare blood cancer. With respect to her privacy, I will not go into further detail. What I will share is that she knew her illness was terminal. 

The last few years of her life were spent back and forth to doctor’s appointments, blood transfusions, and frightening emergency stays. Her last one was right around the time COVID-19 was hitting the US. The day she passed away was the day the Governor of California issued a curfew that a few days later turned into a stay-at-home order. The metaphor of that still has me in my feelings. She passed at home surrounded by those she loved the most. Her passing really pushed me to reflect on how honoring my ancestors can support my wellness journey.

Lessons from my mom- the impacts on my wellness journey

My mom was full of life. She was way more outgoing than me and she was way more stylish. She taught me a lot then and now. I am trying to unlearn some of it and other things I am trying to make a part of my life. Through honoring her as an ancestor, I have learned which memories to keep and which ones no longer serve me. 

These are some of the lessons that I will keep to best serve me on my wellness journey.

Self-Care

After years of therapy and on this wellness journey, my mom taught me about self-care. Not directly, but indirectly because the truth is she didn’t engage in enough of it. Yes, she got her hair and nails done and went out to lunch with her friends. She did a lot of what I consider surface-level self-care.

The lesson my mom taught me was that it’s important to invest and take the time to truly take care of myself. Looking back, I wonder how her life would have been different if she had taken the time to go to culturally-responsive therapy or taken a yoga class. Because that wasn’t modeled for me, it has been something I struggle with building as a practice in my life.

Community

As mentioned before, my mother thrived in community. She could spend hours on the telephone with her comadres. Later in her life, she identified who her real community was and she made sure to spend time with them, call them, and send them a card on their birthday. 

What I learned from that is that you need your people. Through good and bad, you need them. Cherish them and let them know how much they mean to you. Part of the lesson I will keep is that not everyone is your people, especially if they are family. Pay attention, listen to your intuition, and only give your time to those that reciprocate the love you give.

Bake with Love

So that famous wine cake my mom made…people still talk about it. I learned how to make it. That’s not the lesson though. The lesson she left me was to bake with LOVE. The reason that cake was so good was that she added that extra secret recipe…her love.

I bake when I’m in a good mood, because I know that’s when it’s going to come out the best. It’s a form of self-care. Not only the process of baking but the outcome and how you make others feel when you gift them the sweet treat. My mom was a great cook, I didn’t get all of that from her because a part of me was resistant to falling into the cultural gender norms. Baking though? That’s my jam. 

Treat Yourself

As my siblings and I got older, and more so after my dad passed away, my mom only wanted to go to restaurants where she would be waited on. She clearly stated that she spent so much time serving others that she wanted to be the one served. The lesson she taught me was “treat yourself.”

She also became more bougie, she wanted nice things. This may have also aligned with her illness and understanding that her life was being cut short. She would treat herself to nice lunches, day trips with her girlfriends and paid to clean her house. There is a lot to take from that, and I will gladly implement this into my life. Without going overboard, we need to treat ourselves well.

Elderly mother with a colorful shirt holding a baby

My Reflection

Instead of staying sad on my grief journey, I have learned to honor my ancestors instead. Celebrating their lives is a way to keep them alive and learn from the lessons they left behind. It helps me during the days I wish she were here to see my little one grow up.

My mom was a fighter and she instilled that in me. It may be three years since her passing, but she has stayed present in my life to this day. This blog post is in honor of her, and it’s also a representation of her wildest dreams. To be able to use my words to share with others and hopefully in turn help them on their journey is something that I know would make her proud on so many levels.

So my question for you, is how are you honoring your ancestors?

Make sure you’re following me on social media @hablandowellness. Learn more about me and follow along on this wellness journey.

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