Etiquette for Visiting a Cemetery
Most people know that when you visit a cemetery for a burial, there are rituals and guidelines for your behavior. However, there are also etiquette rules for when you go to the cemetery later on—either to visit the grave of a loved one or simply to take in the ambiance.
Although not everyone enjoys a stroll through a cemetery, these places can be very calming and beautiful—due in large part to the amount of care and upkeep the cemetery workers put into it. In order to keep it a setting one that everyone can enjoy, it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with standard cemetery etiquette.
- Above all else, be respectful. Even in the older parts of a cemetery, where people rarely visit loved ones they knew personally, you are still in a place of mourning. Do not bring loud music or raise your voice above a speaking level. Always give way to families who are there to visit loved ones. Do not take any items from the graves or headstones (even coins that might be placed there), and always pack any garbage out with you.
- Follow the rules. Most cemeteries are run privately, and, as such, have their own rules and guidelines. These are usually posted (along with the cemetery hours) near the entrance, so you should be sure to familiarize yourself with them before you walk in.
- Avoid areas with active funerals. It is perfectly acceptable to go for a walk (or even a jog) through a cemetery, but it is a good idea to steer clear of areas where a burial is currently taking place. Most likely, the family wants privacy at this time, so take an alternate route.
- Photograph the scenery—not the people. Taking pictures of old gravestones or beautiful trees changing with the season is a great way to spend an afternoon, but make sure you leave any visitors out of it. (Unless, of course, you have their permission.) Privacy is always the order of the day.
- Leash your pets (and your children). Okay, so you do not literally have to leash your kids, but do keep a close eye on them to ensure they behave with respect. Climbing on gravestones, running over the grass where people are buried, and playing loud, noisy games is never a good idea. For dogs, keep them leashed and make sure you clean up any messes they leave behind.
- Avoid touching any gravestones that do not belong to your family. This includes sitting on them, leaning against them, or even doing gravestone rubbings. It has long been proven that gravestone rubbings wear down the integrity of the stone—especially in older graves—which is why most cemeteries forbid it now.
- Respect the boundaries. Most cemeteries are bordered by fences or are clearly marked by forest lands. Do not stray beyond these boundaries, no matter how tempting. The land around a cemetery may be privately owned, and you will be trespassing if you enter without permission.
A good rule of thumb is to behave at a cemetery the same way you would in a church. If you would not do something in a place of worship, then do not do it here, either.
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By Amy Johnson