Cemetery Etiquette: How to Be Respectful when Touring a Cemetery
Visiting a cemetery is something that almost everyone does at some point in their life. Whether it’s a trip to a local cemetery to say goodbye to a loved one, a stop at a famous cemetery as part of a grief tour, or simply because you want to enjoy the quaint setting and serenity to be found in a cemetery, there are plenty of reasons to stop by.
And while most cemeteries have regular visiting hours and encourage people to come in, it’s important to remember that these facilities are considered safe, sacred spaces for those who are mourning. In addition to following each cemetery’s individual guidelines, it’s also a good idea to follow a few general cemetery etiquette suggestions.
- Don’t visit at night without permission. Most cemeteries have set hours of operation, which are listed on their gates or at the main facilities. Those without set hours are typically open from dawn until dusk, and don’t encourage nighttime visitors. If you do want to visit after hours, be sure and contact someone in charge to get permission first.
- Don’t sit on, lean on, or make rubbings of the erected memorials. Headstones, vaults, crypts, and memorial benches are meant to stand for hundreds years. (And in historic cemeteries, many of them already have!) Do your best not to interact with the stone materials, especially if you don’t have permission first. Many cemeteries forbid headstone rubbings because of the additional wear and tear they cause.
- Follow park guidelines regarding food and alcohol. Although it might seem a bit macabre, some people enjoying have picnics in a cemetery—and many cemeteries are fine with this. However, be sure you adhere to all city regulations about food and drink in a park, and pack up all of your trash on the way out.
- Always give mourners the right-of-way. If you are visiting a cemetery as part of a vacation or out of interest, know that your presence is secondary to those who are actively mourning someone they lost. Be kind and respectful to others at the cemetery, and try not to intrude on a funeral if one is taking place.
- Don’t remove anything without permission. From funeral flowers and personal effects to simple stones on a headstone, most items in a cemetery have meaning. Don’t remove anything that isn’t yours, and leave the natural setting (rocks, trees, bushes, and animals) alone as much as you can.
- Stick to the paths, when possible. Although you can wander through the gravesites (and may have to in order to find a particular grave), don’t move too far off the beaten path. Many people find it offensive to have large amounts of traffic trampling over the grave of a loved one.
Historic cemeteries often encourage tourism, and local, functioning cemeteries are usually happy to see newcomers stop by to visit their facilities. As long as you remain respectful of the dead and use common sense when guidelines aren’t clearly posted, you should be able to enjoy your visit while still following the general rules of cemetery etiquette.
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By Amy Johnson