As a traveling death doula, I’ve discovered that some of the best places to visit in many towns or cities are cemeteries. I’ve toured graveyards in every state and nine countries. In many places, area tours actually include visits to burial grounds. These can be for historical, pop culture, or supernatural reasons. (Ghost Tours…I’m looking at you.)
Why Visit Cemeteries?
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 nestled 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. My neighborhood cemetery, Graceland in Chicago, has coyotes.
3. 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. I learn a lot about a place just by walking through their graveyards.
5. Interesting Stories
Every cemetery has some tales to tell. When I lived in Tampa, I routinely visited a cemetery where a well-known doctor from the early 1900s was 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 me 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 the cemetery 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. Peace and Reflection
Walking around any cemetery allows me time to reflect. I think about the past – my own as well as the community I’m in. I always find myself thinking about lost loved ones and the memories they evoke.
How do you keep your 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 is empty, paved roads. They feel safe. They’re certainly not filled with speeding cars.
This is nice for runners, cyclists, or walkers. Some graveyards have hills, which build muscle tone and burn extra calories. Check with the cemetery ahead of time to make sure this is a welcome activity.
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. Consider your Legacy
Clear your mind and focus on what’s important. What legacy are you leaving behind? What is your end-of-life plan? 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!
Need a Tour Guide?
Too many people have this mistaken notion that cemeteries are sad or depressing places. 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.
If you want a tour guide to visit cemeteries in Chicago, reach out and book a session with me today.