When you’re traveling, a great place to visit in many towns or cities is a cemetery. In cities like Boston or New York, there are area tours that actually include visits to graveyards. These can be for historical, pop culture or supernatural reasons. (Ghost Tours…I’m looking at you.) But even if there isn’t a professional tour going through, a cemetery can be a wonderful stop on your own. While on vacation or even in your own hometown here are some reasons to visit cemeteries.
Vacations are expensive so it’s nice to pick a few places that are free to visit. You can even take the whole family. Some cemeteries may ask for donations, but that’s rare. As a rule, they are usually free and open to the general public.
Every cemetery has beauty in its surroundings. Whether the cemetery is located near bodies of water, or tucked inside a forest. Are their gravestones all in a row and symmetrical? Or are they spread out around a large park?
Rural areas might have acres of graves to view while a city cemetery might be smaller and tucked in between two buildings. No matter, each one has some beauty in the way they’ve been designed and set up.
They’re also home to animals. See if you can spot all the birds, squirrels, geese, or turtles living in each one.
3. Filled with works of art.
Engraving headstones or monuments takes real artistry. Visit cemeteries and look for sculptures such as angels or cherubs atop some graves. Others might have beautiful designs or meaningful epitaphs. Quotes can include original observations as well as lines from beloved poems.
Our country’s national cemeteries teach us a lot about wars, battles and the sacrifice of so many soldiers. Public or religious cemeteries can also be a portal into a community or country’s past. Do some research ahead of time and look for unique markers. They might indicate the area was hit hard by a plague or other well-known event. You will learn a lot about a place just by walking through their graveyards.
5. Full of interesting stories.
Every cemetery has some stories. In Tampa, there is a cemetery where a well-known doctor from the early 1900s is buried. He was scorned for helping poor women while he was alive. So he wanted a sculpture of himself on top of his grave, facing away from the town. It’s quite a sight that drivers can clearly see from the street. What stories can you find in your town’s graveyards?
Every religion and culture has its own set of grief rituals. For example, Jewish graveyards feature rocks placed on headstones. This is different from the more traditional bouquets of flowers. Rocks are seen as more permanent and ever present. Like our memory for a deceased loved one. Visiting religious cemeteries allows us to learn more about people and how they grieve.
Have you ever been to a pet graveyard or conservation cemetery? A visit to look around can be the most interesting part of your day. Find out ahead of time how it got started and appreciate the role it plays in the town. See if you can spot all the ways it’s different from any other cemetery in the area.
8. Opportunities for peace and reflection.
Walking around any cemetery allows you time to reflect. You can think about the past – your own as well as the community you’re in. Consider your lost loved ones and the memories they evoke.
How do you keep loved one’s memories alive in your regular day to day life? For some, it might be a ritual or anniversary. For others, it might be a prayer before you get out of bed in the morning. Remembering them in different ways can be a healthy part of your grieving process.
9. Quiet spaces.
Some people like a quiet place to sit and relax. You might also want a space to walk uninterrupted where you can hear the wind or water. Cemeteries are peaceful in a way that you have to visit in person to experience.
Visit any cemetery around Veteran’s Day or Memorial Day. You’ll see flags adorning many former soldiers’ graves. At national cemeteries around Christmas, you’ll find wreaths. Bring your own flag or wreath to leave on graves yourself. It’s a great way to acknowledge or honor their sacrifice.
11. Places to exercise.
Visit cemeteries and the first thing you’ll notice are paved roads that are really quite safe. They’re certainly not filled with speeding cars. This is nice for runners, cyclists or walkers. Some graveyards have hills, which builds muscle tone and burns extra calories.
12. Open all year.
Cemeteries are picturesque no matter if you visit in the summer, spring, winter or fall. Each season brings with it a reminder of our own life cycles.
13. Places to consider your legacy.
Clear your mind and focus on what’s important. What legacy are you leaving behind? What are your end of life plans? Thinking about death has its benefits. Research shows that people who think, and plan, their end of life tend to be happier than those who don’t discuss it. So be one of the happy ones!
Too many people have this mistaken notion that cemeteries are sad places. Depressing even. This isn’t true. Next time you have a free afternoon, or are traveling, visit cemeteries and see for yourself. They are important parts of our history and community.