Snuggling In with the Ancestors in Neda

American cemeteries are lovely. Parks with landscaping, trails, trees, paths. We tend to choose burial sites in a couple of ways – our family is there, we like the spot, there’s a nice view, maybe an old tree. In most instances, though, we are buried alone in our box.

The cemetery in Neda, along the Camino Ingles in northern Spain, is another matter. Folks are buried with their kinfolk. The monuments list all the deceased within a particular family who has secured a spot in the local burial ground. Monuments are similar in construction, and similarly decorated with many bouquets and vases of both plastic and live flowers. And many members of the family are buried with many other members of the family.

Most curious in this particular cemetery is a single grave, unmarked by monument or marker except for a metal cross, but ringed with boxwood. The smell immediately recalls the gardens in the Alhambra in Granada. Fragrant, but not refreshing. Spicy, slightly smoky, but not sweet. Trimmed to the task, and looked after, without mentioning why this particular place has been marked like this, it’s just a rectangle of bushes.

It’s tempting to imagine this is an empty crypt or tomb, but that would not explain the fragrant bushes. I saw a “For Rent” sign on another grave so that doesn’t seem to be the case here either. I like to think it was created for some crusty curmudgeon who gave all of his money to the church and then said to his family, “I don’t want anything fancy.” So he got bushes.

I visited the two grand cemeteries in Buenos Aires a few years ago. The lanes are set up like streets, creating a dead city with mausoleums that are like homes for the deceased and they house dozens of boxes. Neighbors and members of social clubs place markers on the graves to commemorate their loss and to extol the virtues of the dead. “Juan was a model citizen, president of the union, and a friend to all,” with the names of all the members of the union board. “Sofia was a wonderful member of the ladies guild of the church,” “Hector was a firefighter for 36 years.” You get a real sense not only of the type of respect the local community had for the person, but how they had been impactful during their life. American cemeteries don’t offer that type of opportunity for the neighborhood to celebrate the deceased.

I’m still not sure if anyone’s in this space but I like to think that he or she has a lovely and unobstructed view of the sky, lying there. I hope they like boxwood, and I hope their family forgave their giving all the money to the church.

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