The fifth installment from awesome Austin-based funeral director Sarah Wambold documenting the process of opening her own funeral home.
Death darlings —
Over the past few weeks, I have been able to get a glimpse at how the other half of the world lives — and of course, dies. My discovery was not that they do it better (yet they do) but that my weird, sometimes inarticulate idea for a funeral home is actually already happening somewhere in the world. When I decided to go to Spain, it was for the purposes of vacation, to take a break from what was becoming a claustrophobic quest in funeral entrepreneurship and get some clearer headspace about the whole project.
But the Grim Reaper is always beside me, so of course I decided to investigate the Spanish way of death as soon as I arrived. This led me to Málaga, a gorgeous city on the coast of the Mediterranean; the birthplace of Picasso and Antonio Banderas and the place of death of my favorite writer, Jane Bowles. If you are unfamiliar with her work, go out immediately and get My Sister’s Hand in Mine, the collection of her work that includes my favorite pieces: “Two Serious Ladies” and “Camp Cataract.” Jane was married to Paul Bowles until her death, despite the two living apart, and often with other lovers. She was committed to a “sanatorium” in Málaga a few years before her death and was then interred at the Cementario de San Miguel. The cemetery looks like this:
Orange trees line the walkways, which are paved with old tombstones.
Families come here to spend the afternoon and let their children play:
I pattered around for about an hour, taking pictures and feeling right at home. It is an old cemetery, but is undergoing some pretty serious renovations, thanks to the Asociación de Amigos del Cementerio de San Miguel. This group believes the cemetery to be culturally relevant to their community, with some of the brightest minds and most prominent citizens buried there. They are committed to restoring it and my heart swells as I read about their dedication to the dead. Also, this is a common sight throughout the cemetery:
I quietly continued my search for Jane’s grave, but was distracted by this little guy, who looks like my own beloved cat, Clyde:
Trying not to disturb him, I turned to leave and that’s when I found Jane’s spot.
Now what kind of mortician would I be if I didn’t take a black cat leading me to the grave of my hero to be some kind of excellent sign? As I sat beside the grave, an older couple came to visit it and lit candles. I was moved by their reverence and we shared brief words about our respect for Jane’s work.
I sat for a while longer before I left the cemetery in search of the Museo Picasso (a truly worthwhile collection to see if you are ever in the city). Across the street from the cemetery was this Tanatorio (mortuary):
I looked them up immediately when I got back to my hotel. While they appear to be a huge funeral conglomerate in Spain, they don’t hide from the public what they do. Check out this picture on their website:
That’s their prep room. ON THEIR WEBSITE. When is the last time you saw that on any U.S. funeral home website? Maybe once or twice, but certainly not on the website for the biggest funeral corporation in America. Funespaña also has a newsletter called Adiós; straight-up called goodbye. No “remembrances” or “passages,” just — farewell! They hold a yearly Tanatacuentos competition. A death short-story contest!
They also hold a poetry contest called “Verses for Death” and a design competition, this year entitled “Reload the Mourning.” This crew, for as traditional as their services appear to be, has really made an effort to engage with their community on many creative levels. I am even more impressed because they are one of the leading independent funeral providers in Spain, with 86 funeral homes and 116 mortuaries.
It’s not that I felt like my idea was a bad one or not feasible — you all have been great supporters — it is just so nice to see something similar working so well on a much bigger scale. And I really needed to see that.