Cemeteries can be fascinating to visit, not just for memorial services or funerals, but also for visiting historic graves, taking haunted tours or just enjoying the quiet, peaceful ambiance of the solemn property. Proper behavior is essential on this sacred ground at all times, however, no matter why you are visiting.
How to Behave in a Cemetery
Whether you are visiting a cemetery to pay your respects to a departed loved one or just want to enjoy a quiet walk, proper etiquette should always be followed.
- Follow the Rules: First and foremost, follow any posted rules, including hours of operation, photography guidelines, whether food or drink is permitted, and whether or not dogs or bikes are allowed in the cemetery. If rules are not posted, contact the property’s caretaker or manager to ask about any restrictions or guidelines.
- Keep Quiet: Loud noises disrupt the solemn atmosphere of a cemetery. Keep your voice low, put cell phones on mute, and do not play loud music at any time. If you are walking your dog, keep them from barking excessively, and teach children that their indoor voice or church voice is best for a cemetery.
- Stay on the Path: When walking in a cemetery, stay on designated pathways and roads at all times and avoid walking directly on gravesites if at all possible. If it is necessary to go off the path, stay carefully between grave markers and walk behind the markers to avoid stepping on consecrated ground.
- Do Not Touch: Never touch grave markers or monuments; over time, even simple touches can cause deterioration and erosion that can discolor or damage stones, and older stones can become unstable and may tip or fall easily. Similarly, do not remove any items on graves, including stones, flowers, or mementos.
- Dress Respectfully: The general rule of thumb for proper cemetery attire is to wear church clothes or similarly respectful garments. Avoid bright colors, loud patterns or overly revealing clothes, including exercise gear, even if your visit is more casual.
- Keep to Yourself: Most cemetery visitors prefer a quiet, private experience, and it is inappropriate to interrupt that personal reflection, even with a simple greeting. Do not approach anyone in a cemetery without an invitation to do so, and avoid walking near any services in progress.
- Control Children: It can be a fine family tradition for children to learn about deceased relatives or local history by visiting a cemetery, but they should first learn that the cemetery is not a playground and monuments are not toys. Teach children not to disturb others in a cemetery, and help them learn how to respect the property.
- Proper Photography: Follow all posted guidelines for photography in a cemetery; many properties require permission for photos, and commercial photography may not be allowed at all. If you can take photos, do not alter gravesites for a better image, and avoid taking photos of mourners or funeral activities.
- Leave Nothing Behind: Do not litter in a cemetery, and do not leave behind even something as simple as a cigarette butt or piece of gum; instead, use the trash cans available at entrances, exits, or a manager’s office. Similarly, always clean up after pets.
- Steer Clear: Part of proper cemetery visiting etiquette is to know when not to visit. Respect the property’s operating hours, and stay away after dark if the facility is not open. Do not cross fences or enter private mausoleums, and do not interrupt funeral activities or processions.
When You See Bad Behavior
Unfortunately, not everyone respects proper cemetery decorum. If you see poor behavior on your visit, consider contacting the manager or caretaker to report vandalism or inappropriate actions. Incidents of desecration or other serious offenses can also be reported to local authorities for investigation and prosecution.
Cemeteries can be reflective, powerful places to visit, but they should always be properly respected. By following established guidelines and cemetery etiquette, everyone’s visit can be peaceful, including your own.