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My Mom Would Have Loved That!

by | Apr 21, 2022

A witch’s arms and legs shot straight up out of the grave, black sleeves, black pants, and all.

It was October, one of my first days working at the cemetery, and my coworker was giving me a tour of the grounds.  As we passed the witch coming out of the grave, my coworker was appalled.  I laughed.  My mom would have loved that!

What’s wrong with that?

The problem with a witch coming out of a grave is that there are many other graves surrounding said grave.

Sure, the family that decorated that grave certainly had fun with it.  But someone in deep grief over the loss of a husband, daughter, child, parent, or friend may not find the next-door grave amusing.   In fact, the experience of seeing something like that next to your loved one’s grave could even make you second-guess your decision to bury your loved one in this particular cemetery.

We all grieve differently, and to varying degrees.  The cemetery should be a safe place for us to go to visit a loved one who has died. This should be a place of comfort and healing.  You should be able to leave items on the grave of your loved one to help in your grieving process and to honor the life and death of a person who you deeply miss.  A person who made a significant difference in your life, and the lives of many others.

Balloons on a birthday, flowers on an anniversary, and a teddy bear at a child’s grave are ways of connecting with a loved one.  And yet, you should also be aware of the other grieving people around you.

There are other consequences to overzealous grave decorators…

The “Teddy Bear Assassin”

On a day like any other summer day, one of our field workers was cruising through the cemetery on a riding lawnmower, when he ran over some unknown object.  Within seconds massive amounts of white fluff and other materials went flying through the sky, landing in fluffy clumps around the, up until now, nicely cut grass.  Yep, a teddy bear met its doom.  And the field worker was forever dubbed the “teddy bear assassin.”

Though an annihilated stuffed animal might not pose a huge safety risk, other objects can cause great harm to life and limb.  Fences, wires, metal and glass objects, and sometimes objects unknown, can go flying across the cemetery when the grounds crew are using riding lawnmowers or snow blowers to care for the grounds.  Items can be too low or flush to the ground, and cannot be easily seen by the maintenance people.  Injuries to other people and to equipment are serious issues.

So what can you safely add to your loved one’s grave that is both safe for those around you, and allows you to create a meaningful way of honoring your loved one at the graveside?

Decorating tips that are safe and meaningful.

Let’s take our witch.  One option would be for the person or people who put this witch into the ground to take some time to laugh, snap photos, post on Instagram, and share what had to be the amusing story behind the visual.  When done with the above, take the seasonal, if not unique, decorations down and back to where they came from.

However, there are other options.  There is no right answer on how to memorialize, or leave mementos and items, at the gravesite of your loved one.  The cemetery where your loved one is buried will have information on what is allowed or recommended.

Here are links to our cemetery and another cemetery on grave decorations:

The Catholic Cemeteries

Lakewood Cemetery

Some tips for what is usually allowed at a gravesite:

  1. Fresh cut flowers that are cleared away once the flowers have died.
  2. Wreaths around Christmas time that are taken down shortly after the holidays.
  3. Balloons, teddy bears, and other mementos sometimes are allowed to celebrate special occasions like a birthday or anniversary. Usually, the items need to be removed shortly after the special event.  Don’t be surprised if your decorations disappear if left on the grave too long.

Remember, nothing is permanent!  Weather, animals (live, not stuffed), theft, and nature itself can cause your items to disappear or be damaged.  So keep that in mind.

Think green.

Think about the beauty of cemeteries.  Most have woods, walking paths, wildflowers and wildlife.  Preserving nature both for its beauty and for the environment will help preserve the cemetery for future generations.

If you want to leave something on a grave, ask yourself if the item will naturally decompose, without causing harm to people or equipment.

Our cemetery has a natural burial section.  To preserve the section visitors can leave fresh cut flowers, no wires, wrapping, or other items.  In addition, we have bags of prairie seeds that can be used over the grave of a loved one buried in the natural burial section.

Life has not ended.

As Catholics we believe in the sacred dignity of the person.  With death, life is not ended but changed.

As you deeply grieve over the death of your loved one – your father, daughter, grandparent, child or friend – know that, as you stand or sit or kneel by their side, you can find comfort in knowing that death is not an end but a beginning.  You, your children, your grandchildren, and on can visit this spot, honoring your loved one and the ones that follow.  This is the importance of finding that permanent resting place for your loved ones who have died.

So back to my mother…

Yes, my mother would have laughed at the witch’s arms and legs flying up out of a grave.  My father, on the other hand, would have been appalled.  He probably would have said something like, “Now, I don’t know about that!”

There is a time to laugh, but also a time to mourn.  So all of us need to consider the others around us who are in grief when we choose the items we want to leave in memory of our loved one.

Jamie Moloney

Jamie Moloney is the Director of Pastoral Outreach at The Catholic Cemeteries in Mendota Heights, MN. She also serves as the Chair of the National Association for Lay Ministry, and on the Growing Through Loss Coalition-South Suburbs.  Her passion is pastoral care, and grief and bereavement support.