How do you imagine the cemetery in your mind? Is it that spooky, hokey graveyard like in Scooby Doo? Is it a bleak plot of land that calls to your morbid curiosity? Is it somewhere you have always avoided? Or is it a destination on a beautiful summer’s day? A park for the beloved and a home to birds, rabbits, and geese? Maybe you have a recently lost loved one there. Or maybe you have no connection at all.
If you have visited a cemetery before, think about what impression it gave you. Cemeteries make most people’s imaginations run wild. They can be overwhelming. So many dead people…but you can’t really see them…But you know they’re there! Sneaky…
There is nothing wrong with being curious about the dead. Most people could probably benefit from exploring this curiosity in a healthy way. One such way is to visit your local cemetery. Here’s my step-by-step:
- Google cemeteries in your city or town.
- Choose one to visit. If there’s only one that’s easy. If there’s more than one you can use any method to choose it. There are apparently 93 cemeteries (including horse cemeteries) in my city. I had no idea. Maybe choose the closest one to you for convenience. Maybe choose the one you’ve heard people talk about. Maybe just point and decide.
- Make sure you know the hours of operation.
- Plan a good day to visit. You generally don’t have to take the entire day off to make this sort of visit but it depends on your city. When I visit my cemetery of choice I usually plan for 1-2 hours. Consider if you have appointments, meetings, or class that day. Go on a day with good weather (if you have the luxury). If you’re not super excited at the thought of visiting a cemetery maybe don’t schedule your date night afterwards…
- Prepare for your trip. I like to bring my purse, a bottle of water, and maybe a light snack if I’m staying long. I also sometimes bring a blanket to put on the ground and sit on in the sun. Charge your phone. General short trip stuff. If you’re really into the cemetery check online and see who’s buried there. Maybe there are tombs of interest.
At the cemetery. If you are driving proceed with caution. Most cemeteries have speed limits posted near the gate. In general, do not exceed 10-15 mph but always adhere to postings. Watch for pedestrians!
Get a map near the main office (if there is one) or consult the cemetery directory. Take a photo of it to reference later. Larger cemeteries may have painted lines indicating main roads. Stick to these for your first trip and keep it simple. Some cemeteries can turn into mazes.
Always remember to be respectful. While many cemeteries are like parks you are expected not to be loud and rowdy. It is best to leave your pets at home. If you have trash dispose of it properly or take it back to your car. It is generally fine to explore and relax but do not disturb any services you may come across.
Some people say you should never walk over a grave. This is up to your judgement. I find it nearly impossible to walk at all in my local cemetery if I have to tiptoe around any potential grave soil. Headstones are obvious but overgrown grass isn’t. I am not saying, of course, that you shouldn’t watch where you step. Please be cautious. I don’t think there is anything wrong with walking up to a stone to view it or read its inscription. After all, why have something written if you don’t want someone to read it? Take special care not to disturb any ornamentation or flowers left on stones. I actually like to fix items that have blown over. Flags that have drifted off their spot, for example. These are nice things you can do to leave the space nicer than when you arrived.
One thing I have not mentioned that is very important is culture. If you have read this far into the article I assume you aren’t too freaked out and may be considering a cemetery visit. Some cultures believe that even talking about death invites it. I am surely not one to judge but obviously I have different views. I think that we can start talking about death and the dead a little differently. To be frank I don’t find it all doom and gloom. Not any more. Maybe I’m privileged. Maybe I’m naïve (but I’m doubting this part). Visiting a cemetery is a brave act and it is one way we can confront death. If you’re at a loss for what to do when you get there I’ve got you covered.
*Things to do at the cemetery:
- Take a walk
- Read a book
- Find a famous grave
- Listen to music through your headphones
- Watch the wildlife
- Admire new names on tombstones
- Wonder why you didn’t do this sooner
- Take pictures of flowers
- Search for old Aunt Marilyn
- And much more
*Always refer to cemetery regulations and postings.
Let me know how you felt after your visit.