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Family is at the heart of Day of the Dead

Kendall Harrison, left, works on a memory art project with her dad Justin Harrison, at the Petaluma Arts Center. The memory art workshop was part of Petaluma's Day of the Dead events.

Dyann Espinosa/ For the Argus-Courier
Published: Tuesday, October 16, 2012 at 8:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, October 12, 2012 at 12:43 p.m.

When Edward Harrison died this August, his family was left with a deep need to express their emotions and find a positive way to pay tribute to his memory. So when his son, Justin Harrison, found out about an event called “Children Remember: A Memory Art Project” to be held at the Petaluma Arts Center as part of the El Dia de Los Muertos activities, his reaction was, “How perfect. Our three generations can come together and create a personal remembrance.”

The annual project allows children from kindergarten to high school to make a visual memorial to a loved one, or even a beloved pet, and was developed five years ago by Guadalupe Tausch, founder of Colors of Spanish, a local Spanish language school. Tausch has seen it reach children of all ages and from all cultures who are able to express their feelings through the art workshop.

To Abraham Solar, a co-founder of the El Dia de Los Muertos festival in Petaluma, the stories that grow from this event reinforce the mission of the organization.

“It's a way to create a ‘living ofrenda', or a metaphoric altar, that gives people the freedom to experience the joy and happiness of what their ancestors left in them,” he said. “There is a saying, ‘Your dead loved ones are not dead until you forget them.'”

In the classroom at the Petaluma Arts Center on Saturday, Justin Harrison, his 10-year-old daughter Kendall and his mother Karmen Harrison talked quietly as Kendall selected the materials to use in her artwork. Each of the three had a thought or memory to contribute, recalling good times and special moments — Karmen with her husband, Justin with his father and Kendall with her grandfather.

As the room filled with children and parents, all there to commemorate the life of a loved one, Guadalupe Tausch moved from table to table, offering gentle guidance and praise for the children's work. For some, it was their first time participating in the project; others have attended for several years. Tracy and Doug Perlich have brought their children Vaughn and Daphne for three years.

“This program provides a place where we can share our memories of those special people in our lives that are no longer with us,” said Tracy Perlich. “We get so overwhelmed by the grief, we forget to celebrate the joy and love that we shared. Here we recall those important things.”

Maria de Lourdes Victoria was thrilled to find an event that would give he 6-year-old grandson Lucas Strange more exposure to his Spanish heritage. Lucas was set to make a drawing of his fish that had died, but when he picked up paper and scissors, he began to fashion a baby and then drew features and pasted white feathers on as wings.

Asked what he was making, he replied, “It's a baby that died in my mommy's tummy and is now an angel.”

His grandmother was surprised by his answer: “I never expected Lucas to still have this in his mind,” she said. “Before his younger brother Ben was born, my daughter-in-law lost a baby. We explained this to Lucas and he accepted it. His mother will be touched to hear that he chose to remember the little sister he lost.”

The Harrison family shed a few tears while remembering their lost loved one, but smiles shone through as they recalled how kind, caring and loving Ed Harrison was.

“He always had something nice to say about everyone,” said Karmen. Kendall shyly whispered that she loved her grandfather and misses him.

She included the name “Homer” in her drawing, as Homer was her grandfather's best friend — his Labrador dog.

For Justin, the day has helped him to still feel close to his father. “My dad made everybody feel good,” said Justin, “He was upbeat and loved a joke. When the Hospice nurse asked him if he had any tattoos, he said with a laugh, ‘Not yet!' It's a great lesson to always look to the future with hope.”

For information on the Alas de Vida/Wings of Life and Day of the Dead events, visit: www.petalu maartscenter.org

(Contact Dyann Espinosa at argus@arguscourier.com.)

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