Janeen Caudillo was a beautiful, spirited and loving young woman who devoted her life to “my kids” — the boys and girls she represented and protected as a professional social worker.
According to her father, Robert Caudillo, nothing could slow Janeen down for long — nothing except her battle against lupus, which tragically claimed her life in October of 2012 at the too-young age of 32.
“It’s been two years, but sometimes it feels like it’s been two weeks,” Robert told The Tidings. “Some days are good, some days are bad. We miss her so much.”
For Robert and his wife Janet, parishioners at Our Lady of Soledad Church in East Los Angeles, Nov. 1 was a particularly good day. Together they created a colorful altar in remembrance of their beloved daughter — complete with flowers, a collage of photos, old toys and stuffed animals, and even Janeen’s college degree — which they set up near her final resting place at Calvary Cemetery in East L.A.
“I feel great doing this,” Robert beamed.
The Caudillos were among an estimated 1,000 people of all ages who gathered on the grounds of Calvary Cemetery to enjoy vivid art displays, children’s crafts, Mexican cuisine, folk dancers and live music, and worship services during the first archdiocesan Día de los Muertos Vigil celebration.
“Our Día de los Muertos event is a beautiful way for the community, especially families from our nearby Latino neighborhoods, to continue a tradition that unites their faith and cultural heritage,” said Brian McMahon, director of administration for Catholic Cemeteries for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. The holiday honors “our departed loved ones through this colorful celebration of life,” he explained.
The family-friendly festivities began mid-afternoon and included calavera (human skull) face painting, Ballet Folklorico dancers, an art exhibit featuring local artists and an exhibition of approximately 20 Día de los Muertos altars honoring those who have passed away.
Several altars had specific themes, including one in memory of the Guatemalan children who have died crossing the border, and others remembering war veterans and Mexican martyrs.
Altars are typically created on multi-tiered tabletops draped with cloth, featuring photos of the departed, marigolds, candles, incense, items that once belonged to the deceased, and their favorite food and beverages.
The altars — displayed around the cemetery’s main mausoleum — were created by local businesses, community groups, Catholic schools and parishes, as well as families like the Caudillos who have lost loved ones.
“Every Día de los Muertos celebration has something for everybody,” said artist Lalo Garcia, who is known for his sacred and cultural art. He believes the holiday will continue to grow in prominence among U.S. Latinos “because it really embraces every aspect of the arts,” including music, dance, visual imagery, and even the altars themselves, which he likened to one-of-a-kind art installations.
Due to the large overflow crowd, two Masses were celebrated: one in the mausoleum chapel, and a second service outdoors. Worship was followed by a candlelight procession through the cemetery and blessing of the altars.
The event closed with a special mariachi concert by Mariachi Tierra Mexicana. Vallarta Supermarkets, El Gallo Giro and Chago Tortas Ahogadas provided free food and refreshments.
According to Janet Caudillo, she has carried pain in her heart since the moment her daughter’s heart stopped beating, but the Día de los Muertos Vigil provided an unexpected though very welcome surprise: her first-ever respite from her grief.
“The pain went away today, with this wonderful party,” she said with a smile.