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The Price of Dying

By Jesús Aguado

“Nobody will turn into jade, nor into gold:
Here on earth we will stay forever.
We will all be gone, but there the same
Nobody will remain. We all must die.
We will go to his place.
Like a painting we will wear out,
Like a flower we will wither;
Here on earth.”
Poem of Nezahualcoyotl, King of Texcoco

If you want to rest, go to the pantheon,” is a popular saying. But for the living—who plans and thinks about the place where they want to rest in peace forever? Almost nobody does it—at least in Mexico. The funeral companies do not advertise their services nor does the local administration responsible for the cemeteries.

As a consequence, when somebody dies who has not planned for death, the relatives have to deal with the funeral companies and accept whatever arrangements they can get since legally the bodies can be waked for just 36 hours. But there is always good news: in the camposantos (holy cemeteries), there is space for all of us.

Cemeteries and unclaimed bodies

San Miguel de Allende has nine public cemeteries: Our Lady of Guadalupe, Luz Eterna, Los Rodríguez, Cruz del Palmar, Santas Marías, Galvanes, San José de los Allende, and San Juan de Dios (an old, out-of-service cemetery open only on November 1 and 2 to be admired as a historic monument).

At the Luz Eterna pantheon (cemetery), there is a mass grave holding the bodies that nobody claims. At Our Lady of Guadalupe pantheon, there is a mass grave for bones, which are placed there when the relatives have not paid “for their eternal rest” for over ten years or the bodies have not been claimed. Legally, the bodies do not belong to anybody but the government, Oliverio Fernández, director of the Jardines Nueva Vida Mortuary, told Atención.

What Happens When We Die?

We had an interview with Oliverio Fernández, who stated that statistically, every year 5,000 babies are born in San Miguel de Allende and, in contrast, just 800 people die. From those 800, 30 percent are cremated (in the crematories of Celaya, León, Querétaro, or here in San Miguel). The rest are buried.

Although there are people who have experienced dealing with the death of loved ones, many have no experience. Fernández advised that when a person dies, the first thing the relatives need is a medical death certificate issued by a doctor. Normally, he said, families have had the same doctor for many years and getting the document is easier. But, if they did not have one, the family must get in touch with the Ministerio Público, which will take the body to the Forensic Service. There the doctors will determine the cause of death at no charge and will return the body to the mortuary that the family or the deceased hired. Dr. Christian Galeana told us that the cost of a medical death certificate could range between 500 and 1000 pesos. However, that depends on the doctor. The document, he said, includes general information about the deceased as well as the main and secondary causes of death.

Fernández commented that once the medical certificate has been obtained, the relatives—if they deal with the process—will have to decide what they want to do with the body: cremate it or bury it. Then, they will have to get a permit for burial from the Ecology Department. If the deceased or the relatives do not have space at a private cemetery, they can go to a public place provided by the local administration. The permit to bury a body costs from 186 to 1,093 pesos, depending on the section of the cemetery. Those prices were fixed in the Income Law for San Miguel de Allende. If the body is to be cremated, the permit costs 375 pesos—just the permit, not the service—and if this will be out of the city, a special permit for transportation of the body is required, costing 275 pesos.

Atención visited the Civil Register, and the people at the desk informed us that once the permits have been issued by the Ecology Department, a death certificate needs to be issued by that office. The first copy is free and after the second, the cost is 131 pesos. According to Fernández, expats who die in the city also need this certificate, plus another issued by their consulate.

If the body is buried in a public pantheon, the relatives must pay 344.20 pesos every five years. According to Norberto Carbajo, director of that department, services “in perpetuity” do not exist anymore in the municipal cemeteries. According to Fernández, those services were/are in a private cemetery for 100 years. But if the family stops paying the fees in the public cemeteries twice (ten years), the remains are then exhumed and sent to a mass grave.

In public cemeteries, it is easy to see all kind of chapels, castles, sculpture, and stones over the graves, but putting them there is not free. The families need a construction permit. which costs 287 pesos.

In a Public or Private Camposanto?

Twenty four years ago, Oliverio Fernández Ferro was looking for an investment opportunity. He realized that San Miguel did not have a crematorium, and he decided to put his money there and in a private cemetery. Now, Oliverio Fernández, the son, is directing the crematorium and Jardines Nueva Vida. He said, “I do not want anybody to die. But I do not want my company to do badly.” This is a common saying among such companies. However, he remarked that when someone dies, his company loses money because people have purchased a package in advance and the money is invested in other enterprises.

He also mentioned that the public cemeteries do not offer services in perpetuity anymore. For that reason, when a cemetery is not functional and the families stop paying their fees, the government can do whatever it wants with the remains. As an example, he mentioned the San Juan de Dios cemetery. Part of it is now taken over by the municipal DIF. He noted that legally the bodies belong to the government, which can do whatever they want with the plots, “like at the Santa Paula cemetery in Guanajuato. One day the government decided that it did not want burial plots there anymore, and they started exhuming the bodies and found mummies and kept them in the museum.” At Jardines Nueva Vida, the private cemetery owned by the Fernández company, the perpetuity arrangement still exists. It is good for 100 years and can be paid in advance.

Embalming and Makeup

The truth is that planning our last will can be easy, or we can leave others to make the last decisions for us when we are gone. Fernández explained that at Jardines Nueva Vida, the services are many, and they go from dressing to makeup and embalming, or cremation. Those who decide to be cremated take the journey in a kiln at a temperature of 800º degrees C for three hours.

The director also mentioned that his company offers several packages that start at 8,000 pesos, including transportation, legal processes, implements, coffin, dressing and makeup, or legal processes, cremation, and urn. Burial plots at the camposanto go from 16,700 pesos. The figure increases, he said, depending on the material of the coffin or the urn.

For expatriates in San Miguel, there are funerary services that include legal processes and the service for US $425. There are also packages that allow 90 percent reimbursement if the person changes residency. For more information go to or 152 6648.

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