Cemetery Etiquette and You
Most people know how to behave at a funeral or a memorial service, when respect and reverence are called for in equal proportions, but cemeteries provide a trickier funeral etiquette question. After all, cemeteries are public places open to the entire community—not only as a place to mourn, but to visit relatives, research local history, enjoy the ambiance, and even go for a jog.
Most cemeteries have their formal rules posted near the gates, and you should always take a moment to read them for specific information about where you can go and when. It’s also a good idea to follow these general cemetery guidelines.
- Be Quiet: If you’re driving, turn down the music or roll the windows up. If you have loud children, ask them to tone it down. And loud, off-key singing probably isn’t best. There’s no need to whisper, but you should avoid making too much noise.
- No Playing: Even though the monuments might look tempting to a young child, and the hills are perfect for rolling, a cemetery isn’t a playground. Teach children to treat the graves and the cemetery with respect.
- Stick to the Path: There’s no hard-and-fast rule about not stepping on the graves, but don’t go out of your way to trample on someone’s resting ground. Stay on the paths when you can, and try not to walk directly on top of the headstones and other markers. (This is true for vehicles as well as pedestrians. Cars should always stick to the designated roads.)
- Leave Plants Alone: No matter how tempting the flowers, don’t pick them! Anything planted in a cemetery is probably there for a good reason. Don’t pick the flowers or grab at leaves, and any flowers placed on a grave should be left there.
- Don’t Litter: Nothing is more disrespectful than to leave trash lying around. If you have garbage, hold on to it until you find a trash can or exit the cemetery.
- Leash Your Pets: Many cemeteries are open to pets as long as they are on a leash and you clean up after them. Under no circumstances should you ever leave your pet’s waste behind.
- Keep the Camera Trained at Objects: Taking photos at a cemetery is fairly common, especially if you’re a historian or nature-lover. While it’s okay to photograph objects, don’t point the camera at people visiting the graves or attending a funeral. No one wants to have their privacy infringed upon during a moment like this.
- Avoid Small Talk: Even though many people who visit cemeteries are lonely and wouldn’t mind a conversation with a stranger, grief can be a very personal process. Try not to intrude on other people’s mourning, especially if you’re only visiting out of curiosity.
If you have any questions about the rules in a cemetery (for example, if they encourage joggers or if they will be closed on a certain day), call ahead or stop by and ask at the main building. Staff members should be on hand to provide the information you seek during regular business hours.