Día de los Muertos – Making a Shrine

by Jenny Butler
Tuesday 1st November 2011

Today Madeleine shares her experiences with educating her young daughters on death and the celebration of life. As far as tricky and challenging topics and conversations go, Maddi details a fantastic approach that would comfort young and old alike. -Jenny x

Have you ever had to explain to a child about death? Whatever your faith, it’s down right tricky and confronting. You can’t be too doctrinaire or too flaky on the subject.

A little titbit for you, did you know that Marigolds are known symbolically as the “flower of the dead”. It is believed that the scent of the marigolds attract the souls of the deceased and lures them back to earth during the Day of the Dead festivities.

Recently an ill-fated bird flew into one of our windows at home, it dropped to the ground like a ton of bricks witnessed by both my daughters. How do you explain that to two young children under the age of 5?!  The bird is ‘sleeping’ just doesn’t cut it in our household. We orchestrated a simple backyard burial complete with sprinkled flower petals and the sporadic weed or two. My girls stood glumly with dirt encrusted hands.  Taking cue from the altar experts we went the next step and collaborated together to make a monumental shrine for the entire feathered friends fraternity. They sourced every conceivable bird related object in the house including some old feathers that they tore off a kinder paste-up. The girls completed the altar with petite ofrendas using sticks for perching, guinea pig seed and flower petals (for a soft landing!).

By this stage they had forgotten about the birds suicidal death mission and were now completely focused on the celebrationary side of things. My husband walked in as we were lighting little votive candles, he was convinced that we were practicing voodoo magic. We later added a super sweet marigold garland that ended up being worn as an accessory (and ultimately shredded) by a canine friend.

For the parent who finds these scenarios a little awkward and would prefer to dodge the topic of death like an oncoming bullet I have the perfect book for you! Author Ken Tanaka has made the inevitable reality of death a little easier to comprehend for both children and adult alike. Expect to discover a simple yet straight to the point explanation in Everybody Dies a Children’s Book for Grownups. If you want to taste test Tanaka’s fabulous dark humour complete with super crudely drawn illustrations then head over to his site for a looksy, he even reads for you! You can also purchase a copy of Everybody Dies from Third Drawer Down because they know where it’s at. Happy reading.

Madeleine xo

by Jenny Butler
Tuesday 1st November 2011


  • Jess wyer 5 years ago

    Great advice, thanks so much! Our 5yr old has been asking the big questions and celebrating a life passing with colourful ritual is a wonderful way to explain, thanks again.

  • Joe 5 years ago

    This is a tricky one but the book looks like a good solution.

  • Madeleine 5 years ago

    I am SO excited about this week on the guest blog….I love Madeleine’s work so much.
    I love this book too (we have it) but I have to say the color and craft used to deal with the death of the poor feathered friend is definitely the way to go! What a great mum you are…
    Looking so forward to the rest of the week! xx

  • Liz aka Betty Jo 5 years ago

    The awkward subject of death with your kids is never easy. Pets passing pave the way, and a Mexicali altar to celebrate their life is perfect. Yesterday I casually mentioned to my eight year old I would like a colourful happy festival if ever I died. It was duely noted.
    Love the resourceful use of plastic ducks and chooks.

  • Big Bro 5 years ago

    beautiful Mads – a shrine to all our feathered (and furred) best friends – Charlie 1,2,3 & 4, Fergus, da Mooch, Billy Boy, Marty and of course dear old Else

  • Chris 5 years ago

    Loving all the fabulous colours in ‘the shrine’….takes me back to my favourite ever computer game, ‘Grim Fandango’. Its aesthetic was Day of the Dead crossed with 20’s film noir, and it was stunning! I hope some other people out there remember it as fondly as I do….

  • Tina 5 years ago

    Marigolds – so colourful, so simple, so meaningful.

  • Madeleine 5 years ago

    Thanks big bro P! You’re right, we owe a lot to our former feathered and furry friends. Liz I can only imagine how elaborate your special send off would be. I’m envisaging plenty good use of ‘A’ grade lino to befit a crafty queen. Thanks everyone for your comments and anecdotes thus far, most encouraging xo

  • Madeleine 5 years ago

    Oh by the way Chris I have heard of Grim Fandango (great name!) but never played it. Will check it out…

  • marcela 5 years ago

    I love Madeleine’s work. That giveaway poster is amazing!
    Que vivan los muertos!! Andale andale!! ;)

  • Estelle P 5 years ago

    This post is really on topic in our house at the moment. We’ve been trying to avoid the big ‘death’ talk with Ada for the last six months, with lots of questions about why I don’t have a mum and Andrew doesn’t have a dad. As the little lady gets older it’s become almost impossible to dance around. Perhaps the answer is to celebrate it, not avoid it.

  • Bec 5 years ago

    Such a lovely way to show respect for death while keeping it real! And beautiful! I think I might have to get this book too…

  • Becky L 5 years ago

    That shrine is lovely!

  • Kirsten Devitt 5 years ago

    Emersed in Día de los Muertos this year! Loving this blog after my Day of the Dead 40th party on the weekend…sugar skull anyone? 8-D

  • Amber Spencer 5 years ago

    Celebrating all things love, colour and tacos xx

  • mim 5 years ago

    love the vibrant use of colour,
    especially pink and orange. best summer combo!

  • Elise 5 years ago

    colour colour colour! The shrine is so cool, and that book is such a cute idea. Such a sucker for cartoon skulls.

  • Demelza 5 years ago

    Amazing! So much inspiration, thank you! Miss Lel x

  • lindsey clare 5 years ago

    I never thought I’d see the topic of death on TDF! But here we are, and what a lovely post indeed. It’s hard to remember that without death, there is no life. I think your little altar is just beautiful!

  • katelyn 5 years ago

    so timely for us this week with the passing of my beloved Nanna. Explaining it in terms a 3 yo is able to understand is difficult, to say the least. I can see a shrine making workshop happening in our house tomorrow – thanks for the inspiration.

  • janelle 5 years ago

    I love that the idea that death doesn’t have to be associated with black. Colour is far more positive and reminds us that we’re still living, and of a life that was once lived.

  • Anna 5 years ago

    Love the dark humour!

  • Lily 5 years ago

    Love the Everybody Dies Book Concept….thanks. Super fun post.

  • Joanna 5 years ago

    This is really cool…

  • Tess 5 years ago

    This is truly beautiful, I did the same thing as a child (I still do in fact, damn large glass windows!) Shows the beauty and inspiration that can stem from darker circumstances.

  • Frances 5 years ago

    Day of the Dead also happens to fall on my birthday, which I like to think helps explain the interest I have in the way we deal with death in our society. I think the Mexican way of celebrating is by far better (and more logical) than doing our best to avoid any discussion on the issue. I don’t have children (am hoping that stage of my life is way off!) but I’d like to think that if I do, the ‘death’ talk will be one filled with colour and celebration, one such as this. We should not be afraid of what is inevitable. What a beautiful shrine, Madeleine.

  • lizzie 5 years ago

    love that book! colour and celebration and grief can go together indeed. thanks x

  • Alice 5 years ago

    Thank you Madeleine. I just lost my baby at 22 weeks. I love the idea of paying tribute to a life with colour and love. Am off to plant some marigolds…

  • Mummageorge 5 years ago

    Kids can surprise you with their simple response to death. My son actually sat down on my sister’s dead horse right there in the paddock, and gave him a pat and calmly said “Oh well,
    goodbye” and then he wandered off. I was blown away. He was about 9.

  • Gillian 5 years ago

    A book to read for grown-ups after “Go The F*** to Sleep”?

  • Sally 5 years ago

    How do Mexicans manage to compile bright colours so effectively…?

  • Madeleine 5 years ago

    Katelyn and Alice, thank you for sharing your thoughts and wearing your heart on your sleeve. I am thinking of you both xo

  • jo 5 years ago

    What a great book! Now I know why I see so many marigolds at the cemetary!

  • Anna Walker 5 years ago

    Loving the colour and vibrancy used to celebrate the lives of those who have passed…

  • Chloe Walker 5 years ago

    That book looks incredible! And I had no idea of the significance of marigolds. Maybe that’s why I like them.

  • Frankie 5 years ago

    I have loved every moment of this week’s guest blog. Thank you thank you thank you.

    I spent last Saturday night with friends commemorating three years since our good friend Dayle passed away. I was still feeling so raw and sad on Monday morning, when i recieved my TDF email. I have always feen fascinated by the Day of the Dead festival, and love the idea of our memories of people who have passed being celebrated, rather than mourned.

    This time next year i will have celebrated Dayle’s memory with colour and dancing. And hopefully if i wear some marigolds around my neck, i might even get to dance with him for a while.

    Thank you Madeline. x

  • Sally Goldstraw 4 years ago

    I am so looking forward to day of the dead. I live in a small town and we are doing a day of the dead altar in the opshop window. We are wanting to honour our dead. Love that your blog dares to go there too!

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