What we can learn from Mexicans about death
HER eyes said it all.
The pain was fresh and real.
Heartbroken and trying to put on a brave face, she stood handing out blue candy to passers-by.
Behind her lit only by candles was her daughter's final resting place, decorated like a children's bedroom with dolls, toys and adorned with Valentina's favourite snacks.
This mum was celebrating her daughter's short life, like millions across Mexico City on Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead).
Families fill graveyards across the country for two days to reunite the living and the dead, honouring the departed with ofrendas (offerings).
As well as decorating graves with bright orange and yellow marigold flowers, they adorn them with photos of their loved ones, their belongings, food and drinks.
For children, there are often sugar skulls with their names alongside candies and favoured snacks.
There were many opened beers, tequila, mezcal and cigarettes on the graves of older men while fresh-baked goods and elaborate designs with coloured rice or corn adorned many final resting place of abuelas.
One young man set up speakers booming hip-hop and rap for his teenage brother Imanol who died in a car accident.
Another mum and her daughter had made a collage for their son, and brother, who never made it to adulthood after falling victim to a gang war.
These families proudly talked about the person no longer present daily in their lives, spoke of what they loved and who they were as they enticed their spirits back with their favourite treats.
But for Valentina's mum, the tragedy of losing her beautiful girl after just four short years in this world was still too raw.
When I asked about her daughter, the tears began to well in the corners of her eyes and her bottom lip trembled uncontrollably.
We embraced in a tight hug as she sought solace from a stranger on a night she was trying to reconnect with her daughter's spirit.
With her arms snug around my torso and her tear-streaked face tucked into my neck, I felt the meaning of Dia de Muertos materialise for me too.
Grief is such a private pain in Australia, in many western cultures; one we endure alone or with a select group of family and friends.
Even when we have a public farewell at a funeral, there is an unfair expectation you will hold it together throughout the ceremony and burial.
There is also an unrealistic timeline put on our ability to work through that grief.
With just a glimpse into the Mexican culture surrounding death, it seems to me that having a day to celebrate those who have passed - outside the usual birthdays, anniversaries and Christmas - could really aid that process.
In Mexico, families will play games together, reminisce with stories about their friends or family and, in some villages, they will dance to music from a local band.
There are huge parades through cities and villages, with many people painting their faces as skulls.
There are traditional ceremonies and chants using smoke and dance.
And, because this two-day holiday on November 1 and 2 each year always follows Halloween, the crossover with American culture is also evident in the costumes and many of the decorations.
Two ghosts scared the bejeezers out of me when they popped out from behind a grave, running off giggling with childhood abandon.
Disney's movie Coco has helped bring that celebration of life through Day of the Dead to the wider world.
It would be nice if we could incorporate a little of that celebration as we remember our loved ones and the effect they had on our lives.