An Altar of Words

I want to start this message to you by saying that I’m struggling. The news of the world is cruel and disheartening and I know I’m not the only sensitive person who is feeling it. And as someone who is writer, this struggle extends to wondering what I have to offer right now and finding it hard to believe that I have anything important to say in the face of it all.

But, I also know how vital hope is, and connection. And I believe that words have power and that shared experience has power and that together we are stronger when we write and share our words. So I’d like to offer you a short personal story that ends with a writing prompt (if you feel so inclined).


My daughter, who has somehow become old enough to travel without her parents (what?!) is in Mexico right now. She is with her cousin, my sister’s youngest, and by all accounts they are wonderful travelling companions and are having an amazing time. Of course, I miss her terribly, but I am also so proud that she is confident enough to leave the nest and begin exploring the big wide world.

When nervousness comes up (and it does!), I try to remind myself that what she’s doing is formative and so important. I also prompt myself to remember that she is having experiences that she could never have at home. For instance, today and tomorrow she is taking part in Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) festivities.

Imagining her there during this important Mexican tradition prompted me to find out more. What I discovered was fascinating and also, because our family has experienced a big loss this year, quite moving.

The Day of the Dead takes place annually on November 1 and 2 in Mexico and other Latin American countries. People put on face paint and elaborate costumes and spill out into the streets and public squares. It is a joyful celebration – not at all sombre. They gather together to celebrate those who are no longer in the living realm. Not only do they party in the streets, but families create colourful altars to honour those who have died. The offerings—food and drink, flowers, and photos—are set out with the hope that an ancestor, or a more recently passed loved one, might come and visit or communicate in some way.

It’s a way to remember and honour, but also connect and reunite with people who have died. As a spiritual person, I love this. This celebration also aligns with the time of year that ancient pagans celebrated Samhain, the midpoint between the light and dark times of the year. It was believed that the barrier between the physical and the spiritual worlds became thinner during this time.

If it’s true that the border between the land of the living and the land of spirit is a bit fuzzier right now, and if you are keen to honour or connect with someone you loved who has passed on, I’d like to offer you a writing prompt.


Find a quiet spot where you have at least 15 minutes to yourself. Get out a pen and paper or your journal. Turn your mind to someone you love who has died. Conjure them up in your mind’s eye. Put your pen to the paper, and begin to create an altar of words.

Who were they to you? What was your connection? What essential part of them do you miss? Honour the things and places and foods they loved in your writing. Relive memories. Tell old stories.

If it feels right, you could address the person who died in the form of a letter. What would you tell them about what is happening in your life right now? And if you’re curious about where they are and what form they now take, go ahead and ask.

And, as always, when we write, I want to remind you to listen for answers and insight and wisdom. Writing opens a door within us and allows us to drop down into a sacred place of soulfulness and knowing and connection.

When you are finished, follow your heart’s advice about what to do with this piece of writing. Maybe you want to put it in a special spot or share it with a family member or a friend.


When we use our voice to write our truth or to connect with others, this can be a salve to feelings of helplessness or powerlessness. May the words you choose to write and to share empower you in the face of these tumultuous times here on planet Earth.

I want to thank you for allowing me, and my words and thoughts, to be part of your day today. In a world that feels untethered and moving fast and where our attention is pulled in a million different directions, I feel very grateful for your time.

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