Since I have started working in the Death Care Industry, every time I head home to visit my grandmother I hear the same story; a story about when she was young and how her and her family would go to the cemetery for picnics. It wasn’t just my family either, it was a community thing. Different families would be there putting flowers out and eating lunch, while the children played in the open fields. I haven’t thought much about this story until recently when I realized that she wasn’t telling me about the past as much as she was telling me about where we need to go in the future.
Rising cremation rates in America are putting a squeeze on cemeteries. Unfortunately, only a few cemeteries have been able to adapt to this change with putting in Cremation Gardens. This is only a small step in the right direction, in my belief. We have allowed Hollywood and the media to turn cemeteries into something to be feared, and due to us being complacent never challenged that assessment. The cemetery used to be a safe haven for families, a peaceful area where the kids could play and people could relax; how do we recapture that?
The first thing cemeteries need to learn to do is to become community event centers. Most cemeteries have some open area where they can host events, and they should seek to partner with other local organizations and start hosting! This will bring people back into the cemetery so people can see and experience your grounds. Having these events will help in several different ways, people will continue to experience your cemetery keeping you on the top of their mind, but they will also start to learn the grounds and may find an area they like and what to be laid to rest at.
The second thing cemeteries should do is set up courses/trails for bicycles and walkers. Many people prefer to walk in cemeteries due to there not being a lot of traffic. These people typically will set their own path, however, by speaking to them they may have charted out a mile course for you that you can identify for other walkers. Incentivize them with some water bottles, shirts, and other gear when hitting certain milestones if they log their miles with the office.
Most people love history, and many people especially love local history, which is why making it easy to access this history should be the third thing you do. Teaming up with a local historian to do research on local people buried in your cemetery will provide information to do a history trail or tour. Many cemeteries don’t even realize who they have buried there and the stories they could be showcasing. One of the fastest growing websites is www.ancestry.com, and genealogy will bring many people to cemeteries looking for relatives. This is another way to learn about some of the people in our care to learn their stories, which can be fascinating. Utilize genealogists and notable people to create a history walk that spans your entire cemetery and will keep people coming back for updates and new additions.
As always, some of these things may or may not be feasible for your location. Obviously, a 200-acre cemetery has an advantage over an eight-acre cemetery due to size and number of interments. However, the ideas can be scaled to the size of the cemetery. Instead of a mile long course maybe it’s only a quarter mile and walkers will need to lap four times for a mile, etc. Be creative and think outside of the box to create a program that works well for your community and your cemetery!
Written by PICLIF Guest Blogger
Forest Park Cemeteries & Funeral Home
Vice President of Operations & General Manager