As a child, I loved Halloween but as an adult my affections have shifted to another holiday: Dia de Los Muertos. Though I’ve long known what it was (we celebrated it in school every year, because Texas), it took years before I could truly appreciate it. As a kid, I mostly saw it as creepy but then again, I wasn’t familiar with loss. Most children aren’t. You have to grow up a little more to know that you, too, will lose someone you love. Sometimes—multiple times, in fact—the person you lose will be yourself.
Recently, I helped my niece clean out her closet. She’s eleven now and things are changing in a big way. Though we’d already spent a couple hours together, going through one item after another deciding whether it went in the keep, donate or trash pile, I’d been deeply focused on the task at hand. It was only when I picked up a once-beloved toy, something I’d given her for a much younger birthday, that the emotion of it all hit me. I was overcome with memories of her unwrapping it, celebrating its arrival and joyfully playing with it. But when I turned towards her and held it up, I didn’t even have the chance to ask, “What about this one?” before she’d made a sweeping motion with her hand and reported, “Oh, I’m so over that.”
I’m so over that. Those words made my heart hurt. Or maybe it was the way she’d said them, the seeming effortlessness with which they had come out. I kept thinking about them long after the clean-up was finished. I’m so over that.
The more I thought about them, the more I realized it wasn’t just seeing her so grown-up that had unsettled me. The truth was I was jealous of the ease with which she let things go. Kids are just better at being who they are in the moment. They have yet to grieve the loss of past selves—and it is a loss even when we know full well that they must die.
Which has made me think: I wish we had a holiday for that. A day on which to honor all our past selves, to celebrate the ways in which they were wonderful (which undoubtedly contributed to who we’ve become) and to also celebrate their departure, which may have been hard but was also right on time.
So, on Friday, I celebrated Dia de Los Muertos in the traditional way (by remembering the people I love who aren’t alive anymore) and also in a sort of new one: by honoring all my past selves, the ones who aren’t with me anymore either. I mean, they are with me, in the same sort of way my grandparents are —I will always carry them somewhere inside me—but they also aren’t. Not the way the me in the present is. But they deserve to be honored and thanked, because they helped me get to where I am now.
Since we officially don’t have a holiday for that (though if we did, it’d definitely be around now, in the spooky son!), I’m taking it upon myself to make one. Whether it’s today or six months from now, I invite you to do the same—to honor and celebrate and say “thank you” and “goodbye” to your past selves. You may not be going through the kinds of big changes that happen when you’re eleven but you’re still changing; we all are. It’s good to mark that and acknowledge it. It’s important to, as Joan Didion would say, “keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be.”
And once you’re done with that, why not try the joyful act of anticipating your new self? Even though I can’t see her clearly yet, I’m very excited about the next incarnation of me. I look forward to a day in the not-so-distant future when I’ll honor her too.