Last Updated on December 2, 2021
In this article, we are going to cover 10 things not to do in a cemetery.
If you’re planning on visiting a cemetery – whether to pay respects to a loved one, or because you’re simply drawn to cemeteries – there is some basic etiquette you should follow.
Let’s get right to it.
10 Things NOT To Do In A Cemetery
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1. Don’t go after hours
Cemeteries have hours posted for a reason. They’ll typically close the gates when hours are over. Be respectful to the deceased and also to the employees, and schedule your visit within posted hours.
2. Don’t speed through the cemetery driveways
This is just common sense. If you’re driving into a cemetery (and some are huuuge), drive carefully. Sometimes there is a posted speed limit; often not. Go about 10 miles per hour, and even slower if you see a funeral service or gathering nearby.
3. Don’t let your kids run wild
Talk to your children ahead of time. Teach them manners and common courtesy. Visiting a cemetery is a great way to also teach them about respect for the dead and those who are mourning.
If your kids can be respectful, then by all means bring them along. It’s important for them to get a grasp of history, and they’ll ask all sorts of questions that will help them understand the reality of death, but without fear.
4. Don’t walk on top of the graves
When you’re at the cemetery, it’s important to be respectful to the remains of the deceased. Cemeteries, after all, are one of the ways we remain civilized – by showing proper care and respect for the dead.
One common ritual is to avoid walking on top of the graves where people are actually buried. You can get close, especially when trying to read a headstone. But avoid simply walking, willy-nilly, all over the graves.
5. Don’t sit or lean on the headstones, grave markers, or other memorials
It’s not very respectful. If you’re planning on being there a long time, bring a little travel chair.
6. Don’t talk to other cemetery visitors – even to say hello
You can nod and smile, and if it’s clear that this other person is friendly and wants to talk then by all means say hi and have a discussion.
But have your default etiquette in place ahead of time. The people you see in the cemetery will often be grieving. Try your best to avoid breaking their reverie, or alone time, or ritual of talking to their loved one, or prayers, or whatever they are doing.
Plan on avoiding contact and conversation, but be ready to be friendly if they appear to be ready and willing to engage.
7. Don’t leave glass, ceramic, or other breakable items on the grave
They will break. Maybe not right away, if you are careful in setting it up, but they will break eventually. And someone (cough, cough… a grounds crew employee… cough…) will have to clean it up.
If they don’t spot the broken item right away, kids might pick it up and cut themselves or it could harm animals or someone stumbling. Just don’t do it.
8. Don’t put up solar lights and those little plastic fences and….
You see, someone, at some point, eventually has to mow the grass. Be considerate and don’t create extra work for the grounds crew.
They will most likely be as respectful to you as possible, and will often remove, mow and/or weed whack, and then replace those items. But it’s a pain in the butt for them.
9. Don’t leave food or drinks on the headstone (and then complain about ants)
Just… think about what you’re doing.
10. Don’t make out or get frisky
This, too, should be obvious. It’s disrespectful to the dead and to those who are grieving. Same thing goes for employees – no one wants to see that in their workplace.
The last thing not to do in a cemetery….
….Don’t be a stranger!
Cemeteries are designed to be visited! If your loved one is buried (or interred in a mausoleum or columbarium niche) in a local cemetery, you’ll want to stop by and visit their grave site. You’ll always be welcome!
Even if you don’t know anyone who is a “permanent resident” at the cemetery, you are still welcome to visit.
Here are few things that are appropriate to do at the cemetery:
- Look at the headstones and monuments
- Bring the family
- Have a picnic
- Take headstone rubbings (only if permitted – ask first)
- Take photos
- Enjoy bird watching
- Bring your pet (on a leash, of course)
- Walk, bicycle, or jog through (just be courteous and stick to the main paths)
And here are a few more things to avoid when visiting a cemetery:
- Leave trash
- Leave pet waste
- Blast music
- Take the flowers or keepsakes left by mourners
- Take photos of other people at the cemetery
- Get too close to a funeral in progress
- Ignore the cemetery rules (you’ll see them posted somewhere conspicuous)
Proper Cemetery Etiquette
So let’s distill all this into a few main points.
- Be respectful to the dead, courteous to those who mourn, and considerate to those who work there
- Observe cemetery rules and visit during posted hours
- Don’t drive fast and think about where you park
- Keep a respectful distance away from burial services or other mourners
- Don’t act like a child, and don’t let your children run wild
- Don’t walk on the graves or sit on the headstones
- Clean up after yourself (and your pets)
- Be careful with what you leave at the grave (see cemetery rules for details)
- Enjoy the beauty of the cemetery in a circumspect manner
- Visit regularly!