Friends, Peace be with you.
For the past couple of weeks, I’ve spent my exercise time in St. Joe’s Cemetery in Bellevue taking down a few trees. I do this, in part, because it’s an enjoyable form of exercise for me and because the particular trees I’m taking down are dying. It’s a challenge, nonetheless, to take down the trees without hitting any of the headstones and possibly causing damage. While I’ve been there, I’ve been thinking about writing a column for both the parishes’ bulletin and the Bellevue Herald Leader reflecting on cemeteries as we enter in the Fall and Winter of the year. I’m guessing most if not all of what I’m writing would be true of all cemeteries.
First, please remember that a cemetery is holy ground not a gym or a playground. It’s good to walk or ride a bike through the cemetery as long as you stay on the driveway or sidewalks that are provided. Please don’t walk or ride your bike across people’s graves for exercise because that isn’t what the purpose of that area is. It is intended to be a place to show reverence to the deceased person buried there. And, for the past two years, we’ve had issues with a snowmobiler or two riding their snowmobiles along the side of the cemetery during the first few snows. In the process, they’ve not only ridden across people’s graves but over some grave markers that are flush with the ground. This isn’t just disrespectful, it is illegal. They can and will be prosecuted. So, please don’t ride any vehicles through the cemetery aside from cars on the driveway. And I’d ask parents of kids who have snowmobiles to explain to their kids why they shouldn’t ride on cemetery property out of respect for the dead.
This brings me to my second point, it’s becoming more and more common to hear about people scattering their loved one’s ashes after a person has died and is cremated. I know funerals are expensive and it seems fitting to scatter a person’s ashes in their favorite locale but I think it’s a bad idea. It means your family and friends who miss you have no place they can go as part of the process of saying goodbye. You’re gone and they can’t go to a cemetery or mausoleum to remember you. Further, when your grandson or great granddaughter is trying to do some research into her family tree in a few years, he or she won’t be able to go to a headstone and know when you lived and died. A number of years ago, My Dad and I spent time in a cemetery in Haverhill, Iowa walking to the graves of his parents and his grandparents and it helped me immensely to learn about who my ancestors were and, strangely, it helped me feel more connected to them. They were, somehow, more real because I could see where they were buried.So, please spend the money and buy a burial plot or niche.
Lastly, please consider donating to the cemeteries your ancestors are buried in. Most cemeteries I’ve been associated with struggle to pay the bills because they don’t have a regular income. They operate by a perpetual care fund that is intended to supply all the needs of the cemetery in perpetuity. The problem is that most cemeteries put so little away in the perpetual care fund when the graves were sold that it couldn’t possibly be expected to cover lawn maintenance forever, let alone any other expenses that unexpectedly happen like tree removal or paving or repaving a driveway. So I ask for your help. I’m guessing most cemeteries will give you a choice to donate to the general fund or to donate to the day-to-day expenses taken care of by the checking account. And thank you to those who give of their time and talents taking care of our cemeteries. It is a testament to your respect for the dead in what you have done and are doing.