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Tom Smart, Deseret News
Alter with photos of loved ones who have died honored at Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), which is a holiday observed in Mexico and some other Latin cultures in early November to pray for and remember their dead and has been chosen by The Sharing Place, a Salt Lake City grief support center for children ages 3-18 who have lost a close family member, for its annual fundraiser Saturday, Nov. 1, 2014, in Salt Lake City.
We want to encourage the community to be able to talk about death and to learn how different cultures celebrate people who have passed on. We want to educate the community on what Dia de los Muertos is and to help them see that its not a creepy holiday. It’s really a celebration. —Sally Brown

SALT LAKE CITY — Losing a child can often be an especially challenging experience for any parent, but one Utah mother has chosen to celebrate the life of the son she lost more than a decade ago by following in the tradition of the ancient Aztecs.

Angela Busch, 48, lost her 15-year-old son to brain cancer 12 years ago. Shortly afterward, she turned to The Sharing Place in Salt Lake City to help her and her children through the grieving process.

The Salt Lake City nonprofit is a grief support center for kids ages 3 to 18, as well as adults, who have lost a close family member.

Over the years, Busch has helped lead a movement to adopt Dia de los Muertos — which means “Day of the Dead” — to help families cope with their loss.

Originally practiced by Aztecs in what is now Mexico for centuries on Nov. 1 and Nov. 2, Dia de los Muertos has been observed in Mexico and other Latin cultures to pray for and remember their deceased family and friends. Though American culture tends to focus on sadness and loss in death, Busch said, Day of the Dead is anything but unhappy.

“The first day is for the children that you’ve lost, and the second day is for the older people that you’ve lost,” she explained.

The idea is not to mourn, but rather to remember and celebrate, Busch said. There may be a picnic at the gravesite,or a small party with food or cookies and breads that are decorated like skulls, she noted.

Busch said that over time more people are gravitating toward the more upbeat Aztec philosophy of the holiday that promotes commemorating life rather than grieving death.

“They believe in an afterlife, so they believe death is just a continuance of life,” she explained. “(Day of the Dead) is remembering those we’ve lost and celebrating their life.”

Busch and her family were among about 400 people who attended the annual fundraiser Saturday for the organization.

Similarly, losing a family member can bring untold stress and emotional upheaval on those left behind, explained Stephanie Steele, executive director of The Sharing Place. She said observances like Day of the Dead give people the opportunity to reflect in a positive way and help others who have gone through the same kind of experience.

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Sally Brown lost her ex-husband to suicide in 2001. In an effort to help her children who were 11 and 15 years old at the time, she contacted The Sharing Place.

“We didn’t know what to do,” Brown said.

Over time, the family learned how to discuss death and take a more positive approach to dealing with it, she said.

“We want to encourage the community to be able to talk about death and to learn how different cultures celebrate people who have passed on,” Brown said. “We want to educate the community on what Dia de los Muertos is and to help them see that its not a creepy holiday. It’s really a celebration.”

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