Rituals around death and commemorating life are as ancient as civilization itself. Whether it’s wondrous tombs like the pyramids of Egypt or Taj Mahal of India, artistic movements like the pre-Romantic Graveyard Poets of the 18th century, the stories of Edgar Allan Poe or the cartoons of Charles Addams, allusions to the afterlife and funeral rites surround mind in culture As Halloween looms, our fascination with these themes can become especially strong. Maybe it’s because, as many cultures still believe, the veil between the living and the dead becomes thinner this time of year.
In the Bay Area, we have our own special relationship with this realm. Mexican Dia de los Muertos celebrations with their altars honoring the dead and skull face paint have long been traditions in the Mission District and beyond. The 1963 funeral industry exposé “The American Way of Death,” by Oakland author Jessica Mitford, undoubtedly changed our relationship as a society to that great eventuality. We San Franciscans even have our own cemetery city, Colma (subject of the 2006 film “Colma: The Musical”), where the adage is that the dead far outnumber the living.