Appropriate In a Cemetery

    What is appropriate in a cemetery is quite a debatable thing, but I have found that many take a reverential and highly respectful view of cemeteries.  However, this view requires a certain distancing from the cemetery, that those who think this way cannot understand the cemetery itself and cannot visit cemeteries regularly.

    While walking about Rookwood with an undertaker we came across an interesting sight, something which was quite telling in many ways.  A woman was yelling at her child, telling him off for walking over a grave as that was highly disrespectful and an insult.  Basically she was seriously offended that he would walk on a grave, to her walking on a grave was the hight of offensiveness to the mourner and the dead.  What made it remarkable was that she herself was standing on an old grave as she told him off for walking over a grave.

    This is a very common occurrence, many will tout the sacredness of graves and cemeteries, that the cemetery is a special place which demands high respect and appropriate behaviour as anything otherwise would be highly offensive and inappropriate.

    Take for example the complaints of using a cemetery as a through road, many of the complaints focused on how disrespectful it is to drive through a cemetery.  That one should be there to visit the dead, not to drive past them.  There was also another story months ago about a cemetery in America which was contemplating putting in night lights to cut drug taking and crime.  Some opposed this, saying a cemetery should not be lit up, that it was wrong.

    Quite a few have a reverential regard for the cemetery and for the graves, it is sacred space that needs direct and dedicated attention.  To do something like drive through it, or to walk on a grave is offensively wrong.

    However, to view the cemetery like this, as a place of reverence and sacredness, encourages a distancing from the cemetery itself.  To see it in such a high regard leads many to raise the cemetery, to hold it above a standard place and to make it a separate type of thing.  It is more than other places like parks or even churches.

    To hold a view like this is to not see the cemetery itself, but to see a spiritual or sacred place and as such many hold this view but do not understand the cemetery correctly.  They will only see the obvious graves, the clear and definable ones that they look for and as such miss the forgotten or unusual graves, much like the mother did.  She saw standing on a grave as beyond insult, yet could not see graves.

    It was something I also noticed on funerals, how some mourners would avoid getting too close to the grave side or coffin, and would take a longer route to avoid walking over or between graves.  Yet then many of these people would stand on a grave as the funeral service began, or stand in the way of the coffin as it was carried from the hearse to the grave.

    Basically they would take a longer way to their car rather than walk too close to graves, but then stand on graves during the services.  This was simply because they did not realise, they were not hypocritical or ignorant, they were unaware as all focus is on the funeral service and treating the cemetery with respect.  They focused so much on respecting the emotional or mental aspects of the cemetery that they forgot to behave appropriate to the physical space they were in.

    It is like when many mourners park or drive inappropriately to the physical situation.  They might park on the "correct" side of the road to face traffic, they might drive slowly to be respectful, and yet this can be quite inappropriate to the physical space.

    One example I saw at ESMP cemetery was a car parked on the left side of the road, which was the direction they should park normally.  Unfortunately all the other cars had parked on the right side of the road, which was more suited for the conditions as this was the side graves were on.  That one car parked on the left side had caused a choke point, only one car could pass at a time on a two way road and so traffic was slowing up.

    Another example is of those who drive inappropriately slow at the Rookwood Necropolis round about, not because they are lost be as this is "respectful" in their eyes.  In reality this slows up traffic and encourages people to cut others off at the round about.  I remember one car going particularly slow along Rookwood, when a hearse and funeral cortege came up behind it.  Clearly the funeral cortege had somewhere to be, they wanted to get to the cemetery office and then on to a funeral.  Yet the car was slowing them down and getting in the way by driving so slowly.

    Thinking of the cemetery as a place of reverence requires and encourages a distancing from it, those with these views tend to keep the cemetery as separate from daily life as possible.  To think of the cemetery this way means that it is not part of regular life, it is beyond regular or normal.  In other words this reverential view leads to the cemetery only being visited for mourning rituals, that it is not visited for other reasons.

    When cemeteries are not attended regularly they are able to fall into disrepair, several that have become full have fallen into disrepair over time due to this lack of attendance and care.  In the 1940s a young girl was murdered in Camperdown Cemetery as it was so overgrown and disheveled.  This cemetery, and many unkept ones like it, have been removed over time and turned into public spaces.

    Those that attend cemeteries regularly, such as gravediggers or undertakers, tend to have a more practical approach to interacting with the space.  They are much more likely to walk over graves to get around, which is not wrong or insulting to anyone.  It is simply a more practical and understanding view and use of the cemetery.  I stand on graves to read damaged plaques or to get a better angle for a photo or to get through the cemetery.  In doing so I intend no disrespect to anyone, I am simply interacting with the grave directly rather than treating it as some distant thing.

    What we define as 'appropriate' within the cemetery tends to be dependent more on how often and why people visits these places rather than anything to do with the actual place.  I find those who visit cemeteries often for non-mourning reasons (such as work, photography, leisure, etc) tend to be more practical in their views, and actually are much more willing to interact directly with the place.

    So the woman standing on a grave telling her child to never stand on graves was not unreasonable or ignorant.  She was simply an informative example of how many see and interact with cemeteries.


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