Visiting your loved one’s grave can be an important part of your grief journey – it can help you process your loss and reflect on memories of your loved one. But visiting a cemetery can be intimidating, especially if you’re unfamiliar with cemetery etiquette. Whether you’re going to the cemetery by yourself or with others, it’s important to be considerate of those around you. By following the 6 tips below, you can show respect to other mourners, the groundskeepers, and those buried in the cemetery.
Drive with care
When driving through a cemetery, drive slower and more cautiously than you typically would. To avoid accidentally driving over a grave or monument, stay on the roadways and off the grass, even when parking, if there’s enough room for another car to pass. Also, follow the cemetery’s posted speed limit – if there are no signs, driving 10 mph or slower is recommended.
Remember that people walking in the cemetery may be grieving and not paying attention to their surroundings. Be cautious and watch for people crossing your path. If you’re listening to music in your car, keep the volume low while driving through the cemetery.
Respect graves and monuments
Out of respect for both the deceased in the cemetery and their loved ones, avoid touching monuments or stepping on graves. Depending on how old the cemetery you’re visiting is, some of the monuments may be decades or even centuries old and could be fragile and crumbling. While walking through some cemeteries, it can be difficult to tell where it’s okay to step. Try to follow the path made by the headstones, and don’t step over or on headstones or monuments.
Additionally, you should never remove anything left by another person at a grave. Flowers, coins, and decorations all have special meaning to the person who placed the items, and removing these personal items can cause more grief for a loved one. Coins may seem out of place, but they often have specific meanings, especially when placed on a veteran’s grave, so leave them where they are.
Be considerate of other mourners
People visiting a cemetery are likely visiting a deceased loved one and may be overwhelmed with emotion, praying, or spending time in contemplation. To respect their needs, keep your speaking volume low and avoid talking on the phone or playing loud music. Keep your phone on vibrate or silent to keep distractions at a minimum.
Many people who are visiting a loved one’s grave don’t wish to speak with others. If you are nearby or passing them, it’s okay to smile or nod at them, but don’t try to start a conversation unless they seem like they want or need someone to talk to. Likewise, if a funeral or graveside service is going on while you visit, steer clear and leave them plenty of room. It’s also inappropriate to take photos of someone else’s funeral or of someone who is visiting a grave.
Keep an eye on children and pets
Bringing your child to a loved one’s grave can benefit them by helping them come to terms with the death and learning about their own emotions and grief. But before you bring your child to a cemetery, speak to them about how to behave. They’ll need to be relatively quiet and respectful of others, and they shouldn’t run around the cemetery. Ensure your child knows the rules and can follow them before bringing them with you.
Some cemeteries allow owners to bring their pets, while others only allow service dogs. If your cemetery does allow pets, keep them on a leash at all times. You should also be respectful of other mourners. Not everyone likes animals, and an excitable dog may not be a welcome visitor for some people. Even more importantly, make sure you clean up after your pet. You don’t want to leave an unwelcome surprise for someone visiting their loved one!
Clean up after yourself
No one wants to visit their loved one in the cemetery and find trash on the grave. Out of respect for other visitors and the groundskeepers, don’t litter and pick up any trash you see. If your cemetery doesn’t have a trash can, you can take the trash back with you – and next time you visit, bring a bag to put trash in.
It’s also a good idea to avoid leaving highly breakable items. Glass or ceramic vases and jars are beautiful, but bad weather or nighttime critters may knock over the items. Leaving food at a grave can also attract ants, bugs, and critters, so many cemeteries recommend that you not leave food at a grave.
Learn the cemetery’s specific rules
As mentioned above, different cemeteries have their own rules, so learn your cemetery’s regulations before you go. One way to determine the cemetery’s rules is to check their website or call the office. If you can’t find any information online, many cemeteries also have a sign near the entrance with their rules. Most cemeteries are also only open at certain times, so please respect your cemetery’s hours.
Visiting a cemetery can be intimidating at first, but spending time at your loved one’s grave can help you in your grief journey. During your visit, remember that everyone grieves differently. You may find it helpful to speak out loud to your loved one, pray, cry, or simply stay silent and ponder. As long as you are respectful of both the deceased around you and other mourners, do what will help you in your grief journey.