ALTAR PARA MI MADRE
"My Mom used to ALWAYS say to me "Mija, algo es algo."
It translates to "something is something" but it means "something's better than nothing."
It's a saying I use all. the. time. and I always remember her.
It's like the Rolling Stone's song goes: "You can't always get what you want,
but if you try sometime you find, you get what you need."
- Consuelo G. FLores -
Altar Para Mi Madre
Altar created by Consuelo G. Flores
As a popular Mexican saying reminds us, one can die three deaths: The first when the last breath is taken and life ends; the second when the body disappears by collapsing into the earth or becoming ashes; the third, when one ceases to exist in the memories of those still living. In Mexico, altars are built every year for the November 1 and 2 Day of the Dead celebrations as offerings and to remember the dead in order to prevent this third and most tragic of deaths.
“Altar Para Mi Madre” is my altar for my mother Guadalupe Garcia Flores. It is a mixed media installation that creates a contemporary reflection of my mother through the lens of tradition. The altar is an assortment of personal objects which can be found in the homes of many families with matriarchs who are still living. With this remembrance, I’m connecting mother/child relationships to my personal celebration of my mother’s life.
For whatever reason, each time death has come into my life, I’ve felt it before I got the news. The day my mother died was no different. In fact, I’d felt death around her for some time. In fact, I’d felt it around her several months prior to her death. My sister and brother-in-law took a trip to Europe the summer of 2009 and since they lived with and cared for my mother, they needed others to stay with her during their 3-week trip. I took the last of the three. It was then that I recognized that the frost of death had become her companion during the hottest part of the summer.
Every night of that week, I would lie awake, listening to her breathing, knowing those breaths were not long for this earth. Since she couldn’t bathe on her own, I gladly volunteered to help. “Really, mija? You won’t mind? I’d understand if you don’t want to help. I’m not a young woman anymore and I’m not as limber as I used to be. I don’t want to bother you.”
I never, ever thought of my mother in that way. I always honored and respected her and I let her know. “Mama Chula,” I’d call her, “I love your body. I came from it and I carry it with me in mine.” As I washed her, I took mental note of every part, every wrinkle, every mark left by her life. Thin, hairless legs; a belly with a large scar on the right side from gallbladder surgery; one breast scarred and larger than the other from an untreated cyst that burst; crooked, arthritic fingers on each hand from years of sewing, cooking and washing; her wrinkled face framed by soft, silvery waves of hair and peppered with large, brown moles. To me, she was beautiful.
She smelled of “Tres Flores,” a perfumed ‘water’ often sold at pharmacies and though relatively cheap, had a delicate and alluring scent. This was not the syrupy scent often associated with old ladies. No, she may have been 94, but she was not an old lady. After her bath, I wrapped her in a large, downy towel, much in the same manner I’d done with my children. And I found myself playing with her too, dabbing her nose and smiling into her eyes, watching her reflection in the mirror. I towel-dried her hair as she giggled with joy knowing she was clean again and would sleep comfortably that night.
I spent the next five days cooking, cleaning, talking with her about the family, our roots and keeping her company, all the while keenly aware that these would be my final days with her. And they were.
My mother died on Christmas Eve, 2009.
I keep her memory alive through my art, my work, my family and my life.
I talk to her and about her. All the time.
Her memory - SHE - is alive and present in my life every day.
She will always remain the beautiful woman I came to know, love and cherish.