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.
Related: 13 Questions to Ask When Choosing a Cemetery
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!
Read next: Funeral Etiquette: A Brief Guide for What to Say & Do
26 thoughts on “10 Things NOT To Do In A Cemetery”
I appreciate you touching on how they will probably close the gates after their hours are over. My uncle wants to plan his funeral soon and he needs help with a few things. I think it’s a good idea for him to get his headstone picked out and paid for so he doesn’t have to worry about it anymore.
Thank you for this post. It’s very informative. I’ve seen people do some of the things you listed. I always thought it was rude for them to walk on the graves of people they didn’t know, or sit on someone’s headstone. Grieving or not, remember you wouldn’t want people to disrespect your loved ones.
In Rockland, Maine around Halloween people take their children to cemeteries for a candy hunt and to climb on monuments for photos. I’m appalled that this is what parents do with their children.
Someone just told me that even visiting a cemetery where you don’t know anyone is disrespectful. As is taking a photo of a grave all lit up with candles. I’ve never heard of such a thing. This is in Europe btw.
I have a deeply connection to all cemeteries when I pass them I just feel drawn,I love cemeteries although my husband is afraid that I might pick a spirit up and bring one home with me,there fore won’t take me.i take my two teenage kids with me,my son has ADHD and doesn’t and can’t keep quiet.but my daughter respects and understands the meaning of being there.i could spend hours if I could at a cemetery.the love and respect that I have for those that are there goes deep.i feel at home in a cemetery,at ease and can connect with it some how like I welcome home feeling,i have deep admiration for those that are passed and in their last home of cemetery plots.
I love ❤️ the cemetery I used to walk through it on the way to and home from school I now visit 3times a month to visit family and friends it’s so beautiful and peaceful and puts things into perspective….Darren
My friend an boss passed so I go the cemetery a lot it to brings me peace. They are very beautiful I don’t know which one to choose.
I love going to gravesites with my mom or with my aunties and uncles and visiting graves and learning how they died and paying respect for them and visiting my mom’s parents grave and leaving flowers for them
Don’t park your car near people’s properties near the cemetery and go off the starting of engines and banging of car doors and tooting of horns causes a noise and fumes nusience to residents on a daily basis.
Why visit grave of deceased? They are not there. Their spirit left their bodies as soon as they died. Their body is now dust as scripture tells us. It amazes me why people put flowers, etc. on someone’s grave. Why? They cannot see them. They are not there.
We leave flowers to show others how much we mourn the person buried in that spot.
My mom & dad passed before my brother. His name is on the other side of theirs. I left evergreen swags at both sites and left a circle of stone’s around them, is that proper?
Sounds just fine! As long as the cemetery allows it there shouldn’t be a problem with it. Evergreen swags will always be ok, although the stones may interfere with the lawn mowers so you may need to ask about that.
Thank you for answering my question. The stones I have placed around the grave site are very close or under the swags as not to be in the way of the ground keepers. Really appreciate your response. I want to be respectful of all. God bless.
Now that the holidays are over, what is appropriate to leave at the grave site?Thank you for your guidance. I visit my Mom & Dad & brother, no matter the weather. It’s close by so walk there. I want it to be lovely for them. I love them all soooo much. I live upstate New York. Thank you, kindly. Mary
We’ve actually created a resource on that very topic. Here is How to Decorate a Grave: 50 Gravesite Decorations & Tips.
I find cemeteries a great way to learn about the history of the area. Often there is a story or a bit of history written about historic cemeteries onsite. There’s different cultural customs that are no longer done. For example the crossroads cemetery near Wauchope, NSW. People used to walk 30 or more kilometres in one day to attend a funeral. Stay the night at the cemetery then walk back the next day. A thing that should be noted is that in Australia, many graves in cemeteries are unmarked, so please be careful and respectful wherever you walk in a cemetery.
Hi, I would spend summers in the Georgia country at my Aunt Wanda’s house. She lived next to a graveyard. After dinner we would take a walk in the graveyard and she would tell me the stories about the ones laid to rest. I would “clean the dead flowers” and pull weeds for the Civil War graves! As the sun went down I would catch the lightening bugs in the graveyard into a jar then let them go! I love graveyards and my kids do too! Love the epitaphs and the peace found.
There is a cemetery that I drive by regularly. Next to the cemetery is a local man who has I guess you’d say a junkyard and last year he close the front gate to the cemetery. placed a rock in front of it (it’s a chain-link fence around the cemetery) and he uses the cemetery for his chickens to wander. I called the town and spoke to someone and the town dealt with it immediately, Again this year I noticed he has his chickens back in the cemetery. It’s troubles me dearly so I called the town again this year and they try to pass me off to another agency or call the police. I have a great respect for cemeteries and feel that this man is being so disrespectful and just inconsiderate of the families who have loved ones there. What would you do if you had found this again this year? Did I do the right thing by reporting him again? Or am I making a big deal out of nothing? I hope for feedback as this is tugging at my heart strings. Thank you for the time you took to read this.
I think you’re absolutely correct in reporting him. Cemeteries are set aside for a purpose – supporting the chickens owned by a private citizen is not that purpose.
My mom passed away a month ago and 3 days after her funeral I reserved the space next to her for myself. it was the last empty space in that row and I wanted to make sure I got it. I went to the cemetery today because her headstone was being delivered and when I got there I found my reserved plaque has been pulled out of the ground & moved!…I ask the people that take care of the Cemetery and they said they didn’t do it and there was no reason for it to be moved, so it had to be the family of the person buried on the other side, I assume because they want that space too. their loved one passed in 1990, so they had 32 years to reserve that lot and they didn’t. I don’t want to play move the plaque every week with these people & I’m not giving the lot up, so how should I handle this?
You’ll definitely want to talk to the cemetery. Get a receipt for your payment with a map that marks the grave space that you have purchased, signed and dated by the cemetery management.
Hello, I am wondering if you can find out the meaning (if there is one,) on this. I saw a grave stone of a person who died in 1888 whos numbers of the age of his death were inverted and upside down; an upside down 2, followed by a 3. As in 23 yrs old.. But because the 2 is upside down you immediately look at it upside down and realize that it could mean 32yrs, although when viewing upside down, the 2 is normal and 3 inverted! There are a lot of different Society groups clearly marked in this grave yard of the Masons, and Woodman of the World, a benevolent society of men from the early 1900’s. Im wondering if it is possible that the person may have been too low of rank for a symbol, so they added this little trick. What do you think?
That is very interesting! I’m not aware of any special meaning or significance to upside down numbers on headstones. You might contact your local Masonic Lodge to see if they can provide any insight from that perspective. However my hunch is that the engraver may have accidentally had his template for that number upside down, and either no one caught the mistake or it was cost-prohibitive to replace so they just left it. But if you find out any sort of special meaning to it, please let us know!
Love this article, Just tonight I learned the exact meaning of coins left on headstones. I actually learned how to drive in a cemetery, I went very slowly of course. You mentioned having a picnic in the cemetery, how and where would one do this?
Hi Susan, glad that we could provide some helpful information. Most cemeteries have plenty of open grassy space, so just find a suitable location, preferably near your loved one’s resting place, spread out a blanket and enjoy a light meal. If you have any more than one or two other people, be sure to clear it with the cemetery or funeral home first.