Tucson’s All Souls Procession

Giant paper mache skull
Tucson All Souls Procession gives mourners the chance to work through their grief, together. Photo by Charish Badzinski.

Healing Among Hundreds in Tucson, Arizona

If you have plans to travel to Tucson, it’s worth your while to schedule your trip to coincide with the All Souls Procession, and if you’re grieving the loss of someone or something in your life–and who among us isn’t?–it’s worth your while to take part.

As a long-time visitor to Tucson, I had often heard about the annual All Souls Procession, but it wasn’t until I moved here that I got to take part. And I’d had no idea it would be such a fulfilling, healing experience or I might have done it years ago.

Here’s what we experienced at the Tucson All Souls Procession, and what you can expect if you want to be a part of it in the future.

30 Years of Remembrance, Together

This year marked the 30th annual Tucson All Souls Procession, testament to some incredible community organizing, event planning and fundraising.

I’ve never fully understood what All Souls Procession was about–it happens around Halloween, which is the closest association I have to dressing up like skeletons. And I only vaguely understand Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead, where families honor their departed loved ones. Needless to say, I was relatively unprepared for what was to come.

All Souls Procession participants in costume
All Souls Procession participants often dress in costume for the event, with skulls and skeletons prevalent. Photo by Charish Badzinski.

Walking the All Souls Procession in Memory of My Father

My father is gone three and a half years now. It still, in many ways, hurts like yesterday. When he passed, I thought it was something I’d mourn for a few months, and eventually tuck it into that dusty place where dull pain hides, only to emerge periodically, like a forgotten bruise.

Oh, yeah, you’re still here.

Grief has not, for me at least, been like that. It is a rather constant companion, re-emerging periodically in sharp stabs. When it’s acute I call it, “The Dad Sads.” The Christmas carol that was his favorite plays in the background. A man walks by with a gait similar to my father’s after the stroke. Even the darn Foodsaver machine on a store shelf makes me think of him (he loved that thing.). Go ahead and laugh–because, yes, that’s part of the process too.

And somehow around the holidays it seems like a heavier load to bear. Which is why I’ve dubbed it “The Holidowns.” Thank goodness that has passed, for now.

It’s my assumption, now that I’ve crossed over into this club that no one wants to be a part of, the club of Little Girls with No Dads, that all of us are suffering. Not just for dads we’ve lost, but for so many, for the person we once were, for the friends who’ve hurt us and never mended the relationship, for departed loved ones, for the beloved pets we’ve said goodbye to, for the things left undone. As human beings, all of us are wearing suits of suffering. It is the uniform of the human condition. Itching to hear someone’s voice again. Feeling a bit unmoored, lost without them. Reliving the things we wish we’d done differently, if only to have had a few more precious moments with those who have died.

But it is only when you walk among members of the larger community of grief that you fully understand the breadth of it. We exist amidst an epidemic of sadness. Grief may be a solitary, individual journey. But you never travel alone.

How deeply we’ve loved. And my God, how much we’ve all lost.

The Tucson All Souls Procession gives us a chance to let go of a little of that grief, to share it with others, to see that we are not alone.

I decided I would walk in the procession in honor of my dad.

All Souls Procession: It’s Not a Parade

It’s natural to think that All Souls Procession is a parade, but it’s not. And it’s natural to think it’s a bit of a costume party, but it’s not that either. It is a profound, shared experience of grief.

I invited some friends who were visiting from out of town to join me in the procession, both of whom carried their own losses. After a big day of exploring Tucson, they dozed while I used some halloween makeup RollerbagMom had in storage to fashion what I thought might be a good sugar skull. The face paint was patchy and oily, and my efforts were a bit bleak.

When my father passed away, the nurse had awkwardly offered us a little bottle of talcum powder they’d used for Dad, that would apparently just be thrown away. I took it, and as we sat in his hospital room, we all laughed through our tears. Random things like this little bottle of powder–it’s the detritus of grief. It’s almost gone now, but I think of him every time I use it. And that’s the powder I used to finish and set my makeup for the procession.

I also grabbed a candle that made me think of Dad, something to carry in the procession. And we were on our way.

Tucson All Souls Procession Begins

I was absolutely amazed at what we found. The level of detail and thought that people had invested in their All Souls Procession costumes, art, signs, and interactivity was astounding. Photos of their dearly departed. Signs of grief and hope. Invitations for others to honor their departed.

We missed our loved ones in beautiful ways.

Umbrella with photos of loved ones
All Should Procession participants wear costumes and carry an umbrella decorated with photos of their loved ones. Photo by Charish Badzinski.
Mariachi band
A mariachi band played in the All Souls Procession in Tucson. Photo by Charish Badzinski.
Women in dresses
Participants in the All Souls Procession wore a wide variety of costumes, including these colorful dresses. Photo by Charish Badzinski.


Skeleton costumed man
A man in a skeleton costume pauses for a photo at All Souls Procession. Photo by Charish Badzinski.

At this year’s procession, we were invited to write messages to our loved ones, then place them in a gigantic, beautiful, metallic urn which led the procession.

As the parade wound through the streets of Tucson, A crowd gathered to watch. I whispered to my friend, “What if these aren’t people, but the ghosts of those we’ve lost?”

Remembering the Dead sign
At dusk, the lights came on for several All Souls Procession Participants. Photo by Charish Badzinski.

The parade concluded at the Mercado District in Tucson, a relatively new development with cool restaurants, shops and a couple of bars. And for All Souls Procession weekend, food trucks and other stands were there as well.

Participants in lighted costumes
Participants in the All Souls Procession wear lighted costumes in the dark of the Mercado District in Tucson, as they look on toward the main stage. Photo by Charish Badzinski.

Several stages had been set up, and performances on the main stage were astounding. Cirque-like acrobatics. Theatrics. Singing.

acrobats hanging from scarves
Cirque-like acrobatics were a highlight of the main stage show, post-procession. Photo by Charish Badzinski.

All while photos of the departed were projected on a nearby building. And at last that big, metal urn was set on fire, and hoisted to the sky, sending our messages to the heavens on a plume of smoke.

Main stage and urn lit at All Souls Procession
The main stage of the All Souls Procession at the Mercado District in Tucson. Here the urn is lit on fire and the crane is beginning to lift it. Photo by Charish Badzinski.
the urn is on fire
The urn, filled with messages to our loved ones, is lifted above the main stage. Photo by Charish Badzinski.
the urn continues to burn
The urn burns high above the crowd at All Souls Procession in Tucson. Photo by Charish Badzinski.


Planning to attend All Souls Procession 2020 in Tucson?

Watch the All Souls Procession website for more information. The organization depends on donors and sponsors to make this very special event happen every year. If you’re interested in being involved, you can donate here or volunteer through this link.


Charish Badzinski is an explorer and award-winning features, food and travel writer. When she isn’t working to build her blog: Rollerbag Goddess Rolls the World, she applies her worldview to her small business, Rollerbag Goddess Global Communications, providing powerful storytelling to her clients.

Posts on the Rollerbag Goddess Rolls the World travel blog are never sponsored and have no affiliate links, so you know you will get an honest review, every time.

Find Charish on Twitter: @rollrbaggoddess and on Instagram at @rollerbaggoddess. You can also read more about Charish Badzinski’s professional experience in marketing, public relations and writing.

Rollerbag Goddess Rolls the World by Charish Badzinski is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.



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