Ghosts at the Dinner Table

Ask Hettie Quackers

Q: How do I celebrate Day of the Dead in a way that makes a difference?

A: Hettie says, tell them about the altar…. and the Feast.

Well, we here at Tierra Soul started building our Day of the Dead altar yesterday. I went down to the basement and brought out the box marked Fall, and we chatted about each item as we placed them on the altar. There is Xoco’s birth-bell (he is a Fall born baby), our Halloween masks from 2009, crumpl-ey paper lanterns from last year, a silken ghost, and a series of memorial shrine boxes we made before we had kids at all. We went outside and collected some dried bits & stuff and strung them on ribbon. It started looking really lovely.

Then we sat around and started talking about who we want to invite to our Day of the Dead Feast this year…  You know the one where you ask your dearly departed to join you at the table during the 3 day Death Festival.

Fia is inviting our recently dog-attacked cat Brux and David is asking his father who passed away two years ago. Hettie is bringing her un-hatched duckling who died in its shell this last Spring.

I decided to tempt my maternal grandmother to the table.

Grandma, aka Baba, is one of the smart powerful women in my lineage, but that is not the main reason I want her at the table this year. This year I have some serious boundaries to draw with her. You see when I was born Baba dumped a huge load of Christian shame on the party. You see, my mother and father weren’t married and he was (sshh…) ahem…. How do I say it… He was, well, NOT-white. According to Baba these things are BAAAD.

This year I want to tease out all that NOT-mine shame and send it back over the threshold with her.

Sound weird or depressing?

Well, Hettie chimes in, your civilized self might resist or fear walking side by side with death…. but your soft-as-a-duckling animal self knows how to talk to death. The Day of the Dead festival is an opportunity to connect with death.

The only way to access life is to make friends with death.

The veil between the worlds is thinning and during this season we have a special opportunity to meet, greet and make peace with our ancestors and reclaim our birth right of freedom and clarity.

For my family, there is a very real way that my grandmother’s shame and shaming blocked my access to my “smart powerful” lineage. Separating out the shame and sending it back frees my access to the amazing smarts and heart.

What are you missing out on in your lineage??? Wanna start recovering it?

Here is what I want you to do:

  • Make a start-er altar out of something you have or find: a piece of molding, a shelf, a box.
  • Choose one ancestor to bring to your Feast
  • Put pictures/symbols of that person on your altar. Add to it between now and your Feast
  • Sit down with your dead person (or animal) at the Table and ask if there is anything you are carrying around for them.
  • Give it back. Write a note, speak it, visualize it…. but identify it and symbolically give it back to them.
  • Eat together. Make peace.
  • Pack everything up in storage and make it a yearly tradition that matters.

Don’t even think too much about it, but be open. Contemplate the blossoming of your life at the same time as you connect with the reality of decay that is also in all things. Let the friction between the two work on you.

Then, in the comments tell us:

  1. Who you are inviting to your table and
  2. What isn’t yours and your process for giving it back
  3. The new thing you’re accessing,
  4. The resistance, the confusion, the epiphanies.

And keep the questions coming says Hettie!


  1. Gabriela says:

    In my country we have never really made it to that pumpkins-masks circus (although it’s changing) as it is known in the USA, but we have a tradition (which is originally from celtic Samhain, later adopted by Catholic church and in these days absolutelly secular) to go to a cemetery, where members of your family are burried and ligt some candles for them.
    In these days are cemeteries just amazingly beautiful as in that grey weather and dark afternoons are they just shining of ‘living lights’ and are full of flowers and so on… 🙂

    • krista says:

      What an enchanting image this evokes. I like the idea of sending light back to them as healing as well as sending back what is not ours – a kind of boundary. Really it is the same thing I suppose. Thank you for sharing. We will carry this spirit into our celebration.

      What do you do now? What will you do this season? We would love to hear….

  2. Belinda says:

    Awesome idea! I am super drawn to alters and traditional nature celebrations as in the Celts etc… I love this idea!

  3. Robin says:

    As usual, Krista, your lessons help me to think “outside of the box” of my day to day. It is so helpful for me to begin living a more authentic life. Thank You.

    • krista says:

      @Robin: Have you made a small altar space? Who do you plan to invite this year? This post was actually from a couple years ago. This year I am inviting my paternal grandmother – whom I have never met and don’t even know her name. I think the break in lineage (from not knowing my father) comes from her being an unwed mother (though nothing is certain) herself. I am not sure yet how I will give it back to her, but have scheduled a Myth Mending session for myself do delve in a bit and see!

  4. Jeanne says:

    i agree! this is an awesome post! fresh ideas so well presented. i usually roll my eyes at anything i perceive as woo-woo. but the way you present other-than-mainstream ideas makes me want to embrace your suggestions! brava, krista!


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