Whether a cemetery is a separate space or tied to a church, the ground is sacred to someone. If you’re there for a graveside service, you know just how precious that plot of land is to you and your loved ones, and every other marker is an indicator of loss, pain and grief. Carefully monitor your voice and your actions to show respect for the pain and struggle associated with every plot in the space.
Give the Living Some Space
It’s very rare that you will be the only mourner in a cemetery, so do your best to avoid other mourners at other gravesites, especially if they’re in distress. Even a quiet mourner may be at prayer, or they may be having a private word with a lost loved one or with another of their party. Whenever possible, give mourners that you don’t know some space. Unless they’re in physical distress, don’t attempt conversation with someone you don’t know who’s visiting another gravesite.
Be Respectful When Leaving Decorative Pieces
If you’re going to leave fresh flowers, either make sure the cellophane wrapping is securely tied or remove it and take it with you for discarding. Cemeteries are often large, open spaces and the wind can carry unintentional trash a long way, so don’t accidentally litter! If you plan to bring silk flowers, make sure you get those that will tolerate the elements. While more fragile silk flowers might be prettier up close, the weather-resistant choice will look better for longer and over a distance as other visitors walk toward the decorated grave.
Keep an Eye on the Children
For a child who has never had to visit a graveyard or to pay their respects at a cemetery, the space can be not only fascinating but easily turned into an obstacle course. Because you can never know for sure how old a gravestone is, you want to keep children from climbing on it or standing on flat grave markers. If children are old enough to read and can be respectful, a cemetery can be an interesting place to start a conversation about the history of the area or about life in the past.
If you must bring a pet to a cemetery, take them for a walk outside the facility so they don’t need to relieve themselves on the grounds. Of course, if they leave anything solid, you’ll need to pick it up. However, please be aware that animal urine can be very hard on the green grass that those keeping the cemetery are working very hard to keep lush and healthy. Should you bring a dog to a cemetery? Unless it was closed to the deceased, probably not. There are the remains of many loved ones in the area, and you don’t want to leave dead grass or anything else behind.
Many students of history actually find important data and are able to confirm a lot of information with an in-person trip to a graveyard. If you’re there on a research trip, do your best to look like a mourner. Blend in so you don’t disturb any of the mourners who are processing their grief in the space.
Also, make sure that you’re very careful about how you work around the graves. If you need a rubbing, try getting there late in the day as the sun is sinking. Hopefully, it won’t be very busy, and secondly, the stone will be drier and you’ll get better quality rubbing. Never use the point of a pencil to make a tracing as old stones get soft and you could cause permanent damage.
If you need photos of the headstones or the tombs, take them in combination with shots of the scenery. Get a picture of the trees or any flowers in the area. Don’t just take pictures of graves; it may make some there who are in mourning very uncomfortable. Additionally, do not ever take a photo of a mourner unless they ask.
While cemeteries house the dead, they exist for the living. Finding a quiet spot to visit and mourn a loved one should offer instant privacy and respect. Cemetery respect is particularly important during the global pandemic. There are many people who have died without getting a full service for family and friends due to the risk of infection. This is another loss piled on already struggling mourners, so do your best to leave other visitors to the cemetery some peace and privacy as they say goodbye.