Cementerio de Jaén//Photo credit: VBA

While death can be said to be a leveler, experience also shows that the good works of good men and women live on

Fr. Valentine Umoh

Last night I took a walk through my little city of Jaén. Maybe it was a long walk, but I did not intend it long, it was just to relive my overburdened brain. I came to the way out of the city center to the express road leading to the next city Granada.

On the way out of the city is a location I came across: Tanatorio, Crematorio, and Cementerio, which is a mortuary, crematorium, and cemetery quite close to the city’s football stadium: Estadio La Victoria.

As I passed through these tripartite locations dedicated to the dead, I discovered that the space for the stadium just beside it was bigger than that dedicated to the dead.

In this cemetery lies the bodies of former Alcaldes (City Mayors), former delegados del Gobierno (government delegates), politicians, CEOs of great and multimillion companies and industries, and other prominent men and women in different walks of life who have worked tirelessly and with the greatest zeal and dedication. Here, there is a no different cemetery for the poor or the rich. Here, there is a no different way of cremation for the rich or the poor. Here there is no different burial procedure for the rich or the prominent, everyone is cremated and buried within 48hours. Whereas in life social class, economic status and educational level had distinguished men and women, in death all await the final judgment of the creator. Whereas in life men and women are distinguished by the house they live in, the cars they drive, and the titles accumulated, in death, there is no more distinction as everyone has a common house: the grave.

In most European countries cemeteries can be easily distinguished by its location (always somehow away from the residential area, away from the city center, near the fields), its environment is always a dead silence and it is always illuminated with candle lights, decorated by flowers and the electric power supply is never put out. But also, it can be distinguished by evergreen tall trees looking straight and upwards and for me symbolizes the transcendent reality which man looks forward to.

While death can be said to be a leveler, experience also shows that the good works of good men and women live on. The houses, cars, money may not outlive five years after your demise, but your legacies will. When I realize that most of the philosophical, theological, scientific, legal, historical texts we are still using were written by persons who now lie in this common cemetery I understood the power of legacy. Most of the literary texts of drama, prose, and poetry we still use today were written by those long cremated and buried. Most of the soul-refreshing songs that still animate us were written and sang by artistes long laid to rest but their legacies live on.

So, what do all these teach us: life is transitory, make the best use of today. A man’s legacy does not lie in how special his burial ceremony is or how beautified his graveyard is, nor the amount of money stocked in the bank, nor how big and luxurious the houses he left behind, but how he impacted the lives of others.

At a time, a man will have to leave behind all he has laboured to lie in the common cemetery where there is no distinction between the poor and the rich, the wise and the foolish, the literate, and unlearned.  

Sometimes the thought of death can provoke us to the emptiness and meaninglessness of life but a purpose-driven life that aims at assisting and helping others is not discouraged by the inevitability of death…

So, if death comes today, how ready are you? Saint Paul Apostle prepares our minds always when he writes: “None of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord´s” (Roman 14:7-8). So, if we are the Lord´s, let´s keep on doing the things that please God.

Valentine Umoh


Memorial of Saints Cornelius and Cyprian