The Dear Abby column in our local newspaper ran a number of letters yesterday in response to a July 25 letter about proper etiquette in cemeteries. Here is the original letter and Dear Abby’s response:
DEAR ABBY: I live down the street from the town cemetery. It contains some old stones from the 1800s that are starting to crumble. This cemetery has become a favorite place for many to walk their dogs or ride their bikes. One woman lets her dog run off-leash and her young daughters play tag around the stones. Another neighbor allowed her children to set off fireworks.
I was taught that in a cemetery, people should behave as if they are in a church. It upsets me to see this place used as a playground. This is a final resting place!
Can you comment on proper etiquette in the cemetery? — RESPECTFUL IN OHIO
DEAR RESPECTFUL: Who is in charge of the upkeep of the cemetery? That individual should be informed about what’s happening, so decorum can be re-established and activities that can cause it to deteriorate can be stopped. The idea that people have been using it as a dog park, where the animals can urinate and defecate on the graves, is appalling.
Cemetery etiquette is simple: Treat the graves as you would the graves of your parents, or as you would like your own to be treated. This includes no loud chatter, in case there are people in mourning there, not walking on the graves, not leaving chewing gum on the gravestones, keeping pets leashed (if they are brought there at all), and teaching children the difference between a cemetery and a playground.
A bunch of people wrote back in response to this exchange with differing views (but of course!).
DEAR ABBY: I am writing in response to the letter you printed from “Respectful in Ohio” (July 25). I am so glad you addressed the subject of proper etiquette in cemeteries. The cemetery where my family members are buried has become a playground for the neighbors in the area.
When I visit, I see people walking their dogs on and off leashes even though they are aware of the “No Dogs Allowed” signs. Children are bicycling, Roller-blading and skateboarding, along with joggers and walkers.
I come to the cemetery to visit with my lost loved ones and tend to their graves. I find it disgusting and disturbing that these folks are using our sacred place for their personal pleasures. Thank you so much for your wisdom on this matter. — JEAN C. IN MASSACHUSETTS
DEAR JEAN: Thank you for agreeing with me. However, some readers felt differently.
DEAR ABBY: You should know that there is a trend where groups of dog walkers are taking over the care of deteriorating cemeteries. In return for cleaning up, restoring and maintaining graveyards, dog walkers are given permission to walk and run their dogs there.
Some readers may find this disrespectful, but it has resulted in many cemeteries being restored to the beauty their occupants deserve. — CARLA IN VIRGINIA
DEAR ABBY: When I read the letter from “Respectful,” it took me back a few years. As I was mowing in the town cemetery, I went around a gravestone into some tall grass and my mower stalled. When I turned it over to see what I had hit, I found a pair of pantyhose wrapped around the blade of the mower. Apparently, cemeteries are sometimes used as a lover’s lane. I agree with you about practicing good behavior in places like these. But I’ll always laugh recalling what happened to me. — GROUNDSKEEPER
DEAR ABBY: I have to disagree with you and “Resentful.” One needs to have a historical perspective about cemeteries and their place in our culture. Prior to the advent of public parks in the late 19th century, the only open, park-like setting in most communities was the local cemetery. People would stroll the lawns, picnic and socialize there.
Today, some cemeteries conduct historical and nature tours. While I don’t condone rowdy behavior, it’s wrong to think they are simply for the dead and mourning.
Cemeteries fall into disrepair when they are not active and filled with living hikers, bikers, bird watchers, etc. Let’s encourage people to visit their local cemetery. The alternative is to allow them to go to seed and disappear from our landscape. — PATRICK H., OHIO
DEAR ABBY: Several years ago in a nearby church cemetery, a young couple and their 4-year-old were putting flowers on a relative’s grave. The child got a bit antsy and climbed on a headstone. The stone was loose and tipped over onto the child and killed him. No one should let children play in a cemetery. — JAN IN SARTELL, MINN.
DEAR ABBY: I want children to play on my grave. What could be better than spending eternity listening to the laughter of children? As for dogs, unless you are going to diaper all the pigeons, dogs are the least of my worries! — ALANSON IN NEW JERSEY
My view: Our synagogue has a small historic cemetery with graves going back to the 1800s. It is only about two acres in size. As a member of the committee that oversees the maintenance of the cemetery, I like to see people there, but not animals. I can understand people visiting larger memorial gardens for recreational purposes and have visited some amazing historic cemeteries just to admire the statuary and buildings. A smaller cemetery like ours is best left to be visited by the families that want to pay their respects.
Anyone want to add to the conversation?