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 graveyards – there is some basic cemetery etiquette you should follow.
Let’s get right to it.
Proper Cemetery Etiquette
- Be respectful. Honor the dead, show courtesy to those who mourn, and be considerate to those who work there.
- Read the rules. Observe cemetery rules and visit during posted hours.
- Mind your vehicle. Don’t drive fast; also, think about where you park.
- Consider others. Keep a respectful distance away from burial services or other mourners.
- Watch your kiddos. Don’t act like a child, and don’t let your children run wild.
- Look out for headstones. Don’t walk on the graves or sit on the headstones.
- Don’t leave a mess. Clean up after yourself (and your pets).
- Don’t leave breakables. Be careful with what you leave at the grave (see cemetery rules for details).
- Take it all in. Enjoy the beauty of the cemetery reverently.
- Plan to come back. Visit regularly!
10 Things NOT To Do In A Cemetery
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, funeral procession, or gathering nearby.
Ask yourself: how would do want other people to behave – and drive – during a service for your loved one?
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 younger family members 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.
Perhaps encourage them to bring a stuffed animal, fresh flowers, or another funerary item to place on the grave. If you’ll be visiting a veteran’s grave or military memorial parks, small flags may also be appropriate for children to place.
4. Don’t walk on top of the graves
When you’re at the cemetery, it’s important to be respectful of the remains of the deceased.
Cemeteries, after all, are sacred grounds, and the final resting place of so many loved ones. It’s 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, especially if the family has memorialized their loved one with a grave blanket.
Again, just ask yourself, would I want others to treat my loved one’s grave like this?
5. Don’t sit or lean on the headstones, grave markers, or other memorials
Of course, in moments of grief, it’s perfectly acceptable and understandable to hug, grasp, or lean on a loved one’s headstone. But otherwise, in general, it’s not very respectful to lean against, or even touch, headstones of people you don’t know. Especially very old headstones, in older cemeteries, for obvious reasons.
That said, if you’re planning on being at the cemetery for a long time and anticipate getting tired, consider bringing 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 the 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, 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. And also keep common cell phone etiquette in mind, as well. Playing music or talking on your phone within earshot of others is rude and disrespectful anywhere, but especially at cemeteries. Just think about it…being forced to listen to loud music or loud noise of any kind while grieving over a loved one, especially during a graveside service, would be understandably upsetting.
Again, it’s common sense but also try to avoid snapping photos, recording videos, playing games, or otherwise idly surfing the web while visiting a cemetery. Put your phone on silent, and keep it in your pocket, purse, or car as a sign of respect.
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….
It’s not usually against the cemetery rules or anything.
Most grave decorations, such as small flags, bouquets, and icons or statues are entirely appropriate and welcome. But 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 and for the cemetery managers.
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. The 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!
Etiquette rules in check, cemeteries are designed to be visited! And when done right, cemetery visits can be a beautiful, emotional experience.
Even if you don’t know anyone who is a “permanent resident” at the cemetery, you are still welcome to visit.
Visiting a Cemetery
Here are a few things that are appropriate to do at the cemetery:
- Look at the headstones and monuments
- Bring the family
- Have a picnic
- Take a headstone rubbing (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
- Post photos of other people at the cemetery on social media without their consent
- Get too close to a funeral in progress
- Ignore the cemetery rules and regulations (you’ll see them posted somewhere conspicuous)
Do cemeteries close?
Are cemeteries open 24 hours?
Just like a public park, cemeteries often have general visiting hours. So you may be hard-pressed to find a cemetery open 24 hours. It’s best to call the cemetery office ahead of your visit, just to double-check, if you plan on visiting after daylight.
Is it bad to go to the cemetery every day?
No. Anyone is welcome to visit the cemetery on any day, rules and weather permitting. The cemetery is there for you to visit…that’s the most important thing to remember.
On days there is bad weather, or you feel that you are not emotionally ready to handle another visit, it is perfectly fine to take a break and come back another day.
Is it disrespectful to have a picnic in a cemetery?
So, can you eat at a cemetery? You’re not the first person to ask this question.
The answer is, of course, you can.
It’s not usually considered disrespectful to have a picnic at a cemetery, as long as you remember good graveyard etiquette, and clean up your mess afterward.
What happens if you go to a graveyard at night?
Nothing, really. It may be a bad idea, just because you could trip over something if the cemetery is not lit that well, or you could get in trouble if you visit after-hours.
But as far as cemetery superstitions go, bad luck and evil spirits aren’t going to follow you around just because it’s dark out.
What do you say to someone visiting a grave?
You don’t have to say anything. If eye contact is made, a brief nod or understanding smile is appropriate. Even a gentle “hello,” if you feel so inclined.
In general, it’s a good idea (and good manners) to remember that anyone visiting a grave is probably in mourning, and may not be up for chit-chat.
Is it disrespectful to take pictures of graves?
Yes, if it’s not your loved one’s grave, or if you didn’t get permission beforehand to do so. Especially if you are just using the cemetery as a backdrop for selfies or social media content – again, just don’t.
Daniel has been working in the funeral industry since 2010, speaking directly to grieving families as they made funeral arrangements.
He began researching and publishing funeral articles on this website as part of his role as product and marketing manager at Urns Northwest.
Having written hundreds of articles and growing the site to multiple millions of views per year, Daniel continues to write while providing editorial oversight for US Urns Online’s content team.