Amazing cemetery in La Paz, Bolivia

We visited La Paz’s main cemetery and were deeply moved by the glass-fronted spaces in the cemetery walls where the ashes and mementoes of the deceased were displayed, creating a kind of looking-box. Most had photos, flowers, and religious icons, and some had cookies, tiny bottles, and even cheerful moving flower figurines.

The place was vast, with a maze of narrow aisles with thousands of crypts, some large and shiny, others tiny and industrial-looking, like the small, bleak, metal windows of a prison.

Our reactions to the cemetery differed. Elise felt a profound sense of sadness and didn’t want to linger long while I was absolutely fascinated and wanted to peer into every crypt. She nonetheless started to list the things that would go in her own looking-box (eliciting a deep stab in this mother’s heart). Her mementoes would include Puppy, daffodils (which she’d presented to the Duchess of Cornwall when she was 2), Pomeranian and Border Collie figurines, mango, sushi, and photos of friends and family. (Yes, the tears are streaming down my face.)

But I pray that our lives follow the proper order, and that my looking-box would have to be created first. What would I want in it? Photos of me with loved ones (with excellent light/composition/expressions, please), red poppies and cheery yellow sunflowers, a tiny cup of coffee, a journal, a camera, and maybe a solar-powered digital photo frame showing the best of my life’s photo work on a gigantic loop. (Don’t worry, I’ll make it easy by preparing the photo database.)

My Dad’s looking box would contain his portrait and many classic family photos, including beautiful ones he’d shot of my Mom and of us kids, as well as some artistic b&w street scenes he’d captured in Germany in the 50’s. His mementoes would include a giant and tiny chain link that he’d fashioned by hand, an etymology dictionary, a model of our pretty, tidy childhood home and yard, chess pieces, a golf ball, a tiny Heineken beer, pebbles from the Res where he walked or jogged every Sunday, and a tiny vile of sand from Horstseebad on the Baltic coast, where he lived as a young boy. And, of course, there would have to be colorful morning glories growing up and around his space.

When we return to the US for the holidays, we will visit Elise’s Dad’s grave at Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge. After this experience, it may feel very cold and limiting looking at a tombstone. But Mark was such a vibrant personality and soul that no looking-box could adequately represent him. That said, if we had to try, we’d have it play music he loved, alternating between wildly danceable African music and soul-moving classical music, and include photos of him surrounded by his 3 beautiful daughters, and a shot of him summiting peaks in the Himalayas and the Rockies, arms high in the air. Mementoes would include mini running shoes/racing bike/swimming goggles, an IBM penguin figurine, a tiny Peruvian hat, a power bowl of oatmeal, mussels, and tiny ice cream cone, as well as his wooden sculpture of figures dancing in a circle holding hands (which I thought beautifully expressed his love of interacting with others). Finally, this quote from Rumi, which Mark sent me three weeks before he passed as his body was breaking down:

An unsuspecting child first wipes the tablet and then writes the letters on it. God turns the heart into blood and desperate tears; then writes the spiritual mysteries on it. – Rumi

God rest his soul.