Archive for October, 2009|Monthly archive page

Holiday for the Dead

In Uncategorized on October 25, 2009 at 10:23 pm

One of the most beautiful sights I’ve seen in my life: burial niches in Oaxaca’s Panteon San Miguel lighted with 3,000 votive candles.

Panteoon San Miguel, Oaxaca

Mexico’s Day of the Dead holiday is a unique celebration of All Soul’s Day, November 1, and All Saints’ Day, November 2. Combining pre-Columbian indigenous beliefs and practices with those of the Catholic Church, this is a holiday that celebrates departed loved ones by inviting them back to this world.
This is done both at home with specially-made ofrendas (altars) on which favorite food, drink, photos and objects are placed. As many cempasúchitl (marigolds), the traditional flower of the dead, as can be afforded are also placed on the ofrenda.
And relatives clean and decorate graves for the holiday. In many places in Mexico this becomes an all night affair with liquor, live music, and candles everywhere. It’s a very happy intersection between the living and the dead.

The cemeteries are very alive.

Municipal Cemetery, Oaxaca

And very beautiful.

Gravesite in Ocotepec, Mexico


Something New

In Cemeteries on October 18, 2009 at 9:11 pm

Tyler Cassity has brought new life to a formerly neglected cemetery in Los Angeles, the Hollywood Cemetery and has restored it is Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

Hollywood Memorial Park Cemetery opened in 1899, but by the end of the 20th century, it had become rundown. Tyler Cassity’s company, Forever Enterprises bought the cemetery in 1998 and has made it a very active place.

During the summer, films are shown outdoors in the cemetery – which backs up to Paramount Studios. These are popular events. Though it is the resting place of many Hollywood luminaries (Douglas Fairbanks, Rudolph Valentino, and John Houston, amongst many), Tyler Cassity has injected a new purpose and services to the cemetery. They can webcast funeral services. They also proved Forever Life Stories, with a staff of biographers who help gather film clips, photos, documents and recordings of deceased family members which they store permanently in theaters at the cemetery for viewing at any time.

Hollywood Forever has a full-service funeral home in the cemetery, so all the death arrangements can be made in one location.

It’s gratifying to see new life brought to an important, but aged and neglected space. And a beautiful space that is for people. Hollywood Forever in plan is a traditional cemetery, but the new spirit behind it is quite modern and forward looking.

Cassity also owns Fernwood Forever Cemetery in Tennessee Valley in Marin…more on that repurposing of an abandoned cemetery soon…

Gardens as Cemeteries

In Cemeteries on October 10, 2009 at 9:40 pm

What if there were more cemeteries that were more like real parks? Not memorial parks and lawns, but parks like we like to visit. Imagine a cemetery as beautiful as the Tuilleries in Paris, or the Villa Borghese in Rome. Why not?

Why couldn’t cemeteries be as beautiful, inviting, and as useable as San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, or New York’s Central Park? Actually, the designer of both these parks, Frederick Law Olmsted designed a few cemeteries, Elmwood Cemetery in Detroit, and Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland, California – though today they feel old-fashion and not so alive.

It’s time to look beyond grounds that are set up and landscaped for the ease of the groundskeeper to truly sacred and living spots for everyone.

Sacred Dying:
Creating Rituals for Embracing the End of Life

In Cemeteries on October 4, 2009 at 7:48 pm

by Megory Anderson
I just finished this captivating and important book about attending the dying. Ms. Anderson runs the Sacred Dying Foundation in San Francisco.
The Sacred Dying Foundation is dedicated to challenging the way our society experiences death and dying. The Foundation’s primary goal is to return the sacred to the act of dying by serving those who are at the end-of-life.

The Sacred Dying Foundation is also committed to changing the paradigm of how we approach death as a whole through educating the public on new models of death and dying for our society.

Ms. Anderson helps bring sacred space and ritual to the dying, providing spiritual presence. She’s knowledgable in many spiritual practices of the world. But more importantly, I think, she is intuitive, personal and not doctrinaire. She is able to recognize even those small moments where acknowledgment of the dying’s wishes and feelings can make a profound difference in the ease of the end-of-life transition. Vigiling, being with a person through their dying and after is a centerpiece of the foundation’s practice.

So while this organization is not about cemeteries, it is part of the spectrum (the beginning really) of how we deal with death, It’s about creating sacred personal spaces for the dying and their families. Which is what a good cemetery should also do in physical form.

This is an important and fulfilling book and concept for everyone.

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