Philip Bloudoff’s grave is hot in the summer, the shadow of a nearby tree just missing its mark. His tombstone was glaringly white when we buried him. I’m sure it’s a different color now, the grime of an agricultural community staining the nooks in half a dozen rose impressions. My grandfather wouldn’t have liked the roses, but he would’ve nodded approvingly at the dirt.
Two of my cousins are buried in similar cemeteries, but I’ve never seen their graves. When someone dies before their first kiss, their final resting place becomes less about remembering who they were and more about mourning who they could have been.
I try to honor them each daily by conjuring up their respective faces when I cook three-bean soup, see a turtle or play cards. It’s the little things. But I’d like to do more. I love the concept of Day of the Living.
On Day of the Living, November 1, families trod through Lima’s dusty slums to the even dustier Nueva Esperanza Cemeterio. It’s said to be the biggest or oldest cemetery in South America, but Limenians have a tendency to exaggerate. (A fish was always THIS BIG.)
They gather en masse to celebrate their lives and their families. They wash and paint the graves of loved ones. They light candles, say prayers and leave offerings of food and drink.
I saw children wrestling over graves, and tiny babies sucking on bottles. Food vendors shouted their wares, and musicians ad libbed theirs. It was noisy and smelly and colorful, and I wished it were my yearly tradition, too. What better way for your loved ones to remember you than by enjoying life together?