Manners of grave import when visiting cemeteries

Mourn not: Make them family get-togethers, not grim reminders of death.

May 29, 2000|By Lisa Gutierrez | Lisa Gutierrez,KANSAS CITY STAR

There is no etiquette book on the subject, no Miss Manners' guide on "How to Comport Yourself in a Cemetery."

If there were, it might be a popular read this Memorial Day weekend, the busiest time of year for cemeteries.

If cemetery managers wrote their own chapter of such a book, they might offer gentle reminders such as: Call ahead about the rules before you take flowers to a grave. Don't wire things to the headstones. And be careful where you park.

But don't be afraid to celebrate. More cemeteries, it seems, are presenting themselves as a place to celebrate life, not mourn death.

"We actually invite families to come in and spend time here for this particular occasion," says Theresa Galindo, administrative assistant at Mount Calvary Catholic Cemetery and Chapel Mausoleum in Kansas City, Mo.

"This is not a place of actual mourning. It's a celebration of life ending, of life going on elsewhere. It is reason to celebrate."

At East Slopes Cemetery in Riverside, Mo., new owner Toni Looker hopes to rekindle the tradition of families spending time together at the cemetery on Memorial Day. People have reminisced with her about past family outings to the cemetery on Memorial Day and the Fourth of July.

"They came to the cemetery, and Mom and Grandma put out a blanket, and they had watermelon or they had a picnic of some sort," says Looker, who remembers picking irises from the garden and visiting cemeteries on Memorial Day when she was young.

"Really, think of your loved one that is gone. Isn't that a wonderful way to share with your loved one? There are stories that we need to pass along to our children."

Common courtesy

Though a cemetery is certainly no picnic ground, many may have been just as crowded as parks this weekend, a time when cemetery managers urge visitors to be considerate of each other. In some cemeteries, the roads get so congested that visitors pull off the road and park on the lawns.

"Sometimes, they're not very careful and they pull off the road too far and end up on somebody's grave," says Carolyn Tillman, administrator of Mound Grove Cemetery in Independence, Mo. "A lot of roads in cemeteries were made for smaller cars, and now we have larger cars. Sometimes that gets to be a little bit of a problem. Stay on the road if you can."

Because of the crowds, visitors also may find themselves standing in line at the cemetery office if they can't find the gravesite. For times like this especially, it pays to plan.

"Cemeteries change in regards to landscaping. Maybe they're looking for something close to a pine tree, and the tree's been removed because of disease or damage. Especially on a holiday, people would do well to call the office a month in advance so they can get a map," recommends Galindo.

Cemetery staff can also advise about what is and isn't allowed when it comes to flowers and floral arrangements, guidelines that many people seem oblivious to. Some cemeteries, for instance, allow only fresh flowers placed on graves during grass-growing season, though they may make exceptions for Memorial Day.

Most do not allow plantings at individual gravesites because it's too difficult for maintenance workers to maneuver big mowing machines in and around them. They also don't want wreaths or other items wired into the ground or onto a headstone because the wires, should they fall to the ground, get caught up in lawn mowers. Use string or twine instead. "Wires and mowers don't get along," says Galindo.

Safety concerns

For the same safety reasons, cemeteries advise against taking flowers in glass or metal containers. Candles, too, though many families like to take them, are not a good idea, especially if they're left behind -- and lighted.

Cemetery managers don't mind people leaving mementos on graves. "People like to bring things out, especially for infants," says Glenn Colliver, retired general manager of Mount Washington Forever Funeral Home Cemetery in Independence. "They'll bring dolls. One family used to bring peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and leave them on the grave."

But often, visitors never come back to retrieve the items. Most cemeteries give people one week to claim items before removing them.

Last Memorial Day, Looker and her staff at East Slopes filled three trailers with everything left from the weekend. "I did take all the live plants and put them up on the patio area at the front of the office and let people come back and pick up what was theirs," she says. "Very often, though, people unfortunately took what was not theirs."

Remove trash

Trash is another thing Glenn Colliver wishes visitors would take with them when they leave.

"I think sometimes people come in and they have their boxes and sacks that they bring their flowers in," says Colliver, who worked in the cemetery business more than 50 years before retiring last year.

"Even though we pick it up, it still leaves an unsightly picture along the roadside. It's a very little thing for each individual to take their trash home with them."

It may not be carved in stone, but the message is clear, says Tillman. "Be aware of other people."

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.