La Voz de Galicia – October 26, 2018 →

Cristina Pato I grew up, like many others, going from wake to wake and from funeral to funeral. Accompanying my mother to pay our condolences was something so habitual for us, that I never stopped to think about the way our ease with the dead might appear to others. The tales told by my now-deceased father about the wakes in his village were truly comical. His family ran a ballroom while the Pato siblings played the accordion—and made caskets. Music, dance and coffins made up my grandfather’s livelihood, and humor was never very far away.

I have spent my life going to cemeteries to visit the dead I’ve known in life. But about a dozen years ago, I’ve also liked to visit the dead I’ve never met in life. It all began when, returning from the supermarket in New York City, I found the “First Cemetery of Spanish and Portuguese Jews,” the historic cemetery of the first official Jewish congregation in the United States, formed in 1654 by Sephardic Jewish immigrants (it is certainly curious to think that Judaism arrived in the United States via those who had been expelled from Iberia). That day’s fortuitous encounter granted me a useful excuse to go and visit faraway cemeteries without feeling ashamed to do so. And I then understood the value of graveyards to tell stories, to remember those who’ve been rendered invisible.

Though sometimes I try to explain it, I am unable to do so. For me, the relationship between Galicia and death is difficult to define: it is as profound as it is beautiful, as natural as it is painful. It is a stark, spiritual relationship that goes beyond the religion that shaped the names and identities of our traditions. If I had been in Galicia during this last week of October, I would have gone with my mother, like always, to clean my father’s home, to leave flowers by his tomb and remove weeds…


  1. Had a very similar experience growing up. Always off to wakes and funerals. When we go home to Ireland there is always even now there are many graves to visit and clean. It’s something I’ve never thought about because it was just normal. I enjoyed the story thank you

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