This cemetery is right up the street from my Mom’s house and has always looked very nice both from the street and the freeway. Since I didn’t get to spend too much time out here in the East Bay until my recent displacement from my home in San Francisco, I had never taken a look inside until recently.
Now before you think I’m some kind of Ghoul or something, this is a very nice place. It has long runs of immaculate asphalt “streets” (no pun intended) which are free of traffic. You can walk on flat ground or traverse slight inclines leading up to the Mausoleum. The grounds are always well kept and usually full of floral arrangements, even if most of them are plastic. The exception is on holidays when most of the ornamental flora are real and freshly cut. All in all, I can’t think of a place more serene and pleasant for exercising.
Even though I am not Catholic, I find no conflict of interest in walking the grounds. Just as The Apostle Paul said, eating meat sacrificed to idols was perfectly OK so long as it did not offend new Christians, I find nothing wrong with utilizing earth that God made. We live in a world surrounded by many different faiths, avoiding every single one is neither possible nor effective. Jesus went everywhere. If they have no objections to a patriotic Protestant utilizing their property, I have no problem with it either. As a small measure of compensation, I try to upright any flowers or plants that I find toppled over by the wind. Contrary to what may seem obvious, cemeteries are for the living, not the dead. Each time I right a plant, I imagine an anonymous family member of the deceased quietly thanking me. I view it as a compassionate thing to do.
I was surprised to find vineyards planted all around the property. Seems like a good use for the unsold plots but I do have to wonder about embalming fluids finding their way into the root systems. Hmmmm… Oh well, I suppose if they have been doing it for this long it must be OK. I asked one of the grounds keepers about the vineyards one day and he told me that the wine is used for Catholic services, Communions I presumed.
There are several different species of birds that use the grounds too, I imagine they are looking for worms, bugs, etc.. I found a group of finches digging in freshly disturbed lawn that the mower had torn with it’s wheels. I’ve spotted Jays, Finches, Crows and some other species that I can’t identify. Strangely enough, I’ve also spotted quite a few Seagulls. I don’t think Seagulls dig for worms but what do I know, they must be there for some reason so, maybe they do. The Seagull that I saw today however, just kind of sat on the same back stretch of road for hours behind the Mausoleum, all by himself. My thoughts were that the poor thing would soon be needing a plot itself. Oh, the irony of it all…
Irony, an abundant commodity when one is at the cemetery, especially a cemetery used to preserve health. I like to envision the tombstones as cheering onlookers, enviously applauding my every stride as I walk by. I imagine that each and every soul interred there would heartily condone my using their final resting place as an outdoor gym, were they able. What they wouldn’t give to be able to take just one single step with me. Sounds kind of horrible, doesn’t it? But you know, it’s absolutely true. When in the cemetery, every step that I take is both in honor of and an homage to, those who no longer can. I’m confident that my exercising would be just fine with them and as a bonus, if I can tidy up their plot a little for the surviving loved ones… heck, so much the better. As perfect a relationship as ever there could be, the living living well in honor of the dead.
I am not gleeful that I’m alive while they are not, to my reasoning we are all just at different points along the path of existence. I am not sad for them now that they are on the “other side”, nor do I feel especially privileged to be here myself either however, there is one grave site that does make me a little sad. There is a lady, a mother, who is interred in the very back of the Mausoleum, right in the middle of the roundabout. It is a small, circular patch of ground surrounded by asphalt. She is the only one there. Even more depressing is that her monument, although inscribed with beautifully worded sentiments, is a rough chunk of gray granite. When my mon and I first saw it, the immediate impression that we got was that this woman had been abandoned. I showed the plot and monument to my mom and asked her if she would want to be laid to rest in a similar fashion. Her response was a visceral “no”. My mom cares about such things but I do not. Still, it seemed profoundly sad.
This woman, whomever she had been in life, seemed genuinely loved if you believed the words carved into her rock. Looking at it though, you just couldn’t escape the fact that not only was she outside of the Mausoleum, she was in the very back of it, surrounded by asphalt all by herself. To make it worse, the circular patch was ringed with lavender bushes that made it almost impossible to tell that a person was buried there. For all the world it seemed as though she had been thrown away, it would have been far nobler I opine, to have had no plot at all. I could be wrong, perhaps she picked the plot herself before she died. I guess I’ll never know but is what I’ll tell myself every time I pass her way. It will keep me from feeling sad for her. To bolster the thought, I will tell myself that those lovely words must surely be evidence that she received many, many flowers in life and that she now has no need for them. Yeah, that is what I’ll tell myself, every time I walk by her final resting place.
The grounds are bucolic but the Mausoleum is a treat. The Mausoleum is more like a Museum. If you go in through the front entrance, the first thing you encounter is a chapel like viewing area complete with pews and a very large sculpture of Christ on the Cross. In front of the sculpture is a heavy, elevated table where the departed must be placed for services. Beyond that you enter what I like to call “The Catacombs”. This is where the above ground vaults are stacked floor to ceiling with the dead, resting behind engraved slabs of tan marble. At first you wouldn’t think that there could be that many dead people on Earth but then you slap yourself for being so silly. Of course there are. Way more dead people than alive. Perhaps my favorite monument in this section is an almost life sized white marble sculpture of Christ, I like it for artistic reasons only. I think it to be one of the most refined pieces in the place.
Beyond the chapel like entrance and The Catacombs are the Urns full of ashes. These are my favorites. The Urns stretch from floor to ceiling as well, displayed behind glass in their own little cubicles. Some are roomier than others, such as doubles for both husband and wife, mother and child etc.., all however, contain personal artifacts that once belonged to the deceased. They are like little exhibits or time capsules or something. Some have jewelry that the deceased wore in life while others contain sundry personal effects. Many have eyeglasses that were worn by the deceased along with photographs showing them being worn. Almost all of the Urns are accompanied by photographs and short writings, just as one might find on the monuments outside. The Urns are for the most part, very ornate. Most are made of ceramic, some of metal, one made of wood and one very beautiful Urn is made of hand blown art glass. The glass Urn is my absolute favorite simply for it’s sheer beauty, it is embellished with art glass flowers and even has a separate long stemmed art glass flower laying tastefully off to the side. Very, very nice and impeccably classy. If you must spend all of eternity contained in a jar, then hand blown glass is definitely the way to go. 😉