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Caring for a Gravesite

Remember the pride Grandma had in her gardens? There was nary a weed and her strawberry patches were impeccable.

Doesn’t her grave deserve the same love and care?

Caring for a grave is an opportunity to show respect to your loved one, and to reflect on the time you had together. It’s common to visit a grave to talk to your loved one, so why not tidy a little while there?

Thousands of Americans will trek to cemeteries on the Fourth of July this year to visit the graves of their departed dear ones. American flags sized to be placed in holders at graves are readily available online or in department stores. Some cemeteries do not allow flags, and as with any items you plan to leave, it is a good idea to know the policy of the cemetery.

Some cemeteries have grounds staff that will remove and dispose of flowers or other items left on stones or on the grave. It is best to check with your cemetery to see if they do this or how often. While the removal of dead flowers or plants is a nice consideration, you do not want your evergreen items to be recycled or trashed, especially if you are leaving behind something of great meaning to you or your loved ones.

It could be very upsetting to a family member to visit their grandfather’s grave to see his prized toy train is no longer in front of the tombstone.

Cemeteries may post signs around the perimeter of their grounds stating their policies on what can be left at a grave and if and when those items will be removed by the groundskeeper. But there may not be clear signage posted, so it is best to contact the cemetery by phone or email to discover their policies.

Your best bet is to keep it simple. A single plant or bouquet of flowers and perhaps a couple of mementos. You don’t want a gravesite to look like the table in the front hall, strewn with all manner of detritus.

Cleaning Gravestones

Walking around cemeteries in New England, you will see a wide variety of gravestones going back centuries, many of them weather-beaten and some with unrecognizable text due to age and weathering.

Most stones are made from natural minerals such as limestone, sandstone, marble and granite. Softer stones were simpler to carve centuries ago, but today many stones are made from granite, which is harder stone.

That said, exposure to the elements can still wear a granite stone. Cleaning it takes some care and patience. Some items to bring with you to clean the stone should include distilled water, a spray bottle that has only contained water and no other chemical-based products, a plastic-free toothbrush or a natural fiber scrub brush and some wooden popsicle sticks.

Before you begin cleaning a loved one’s stone, check it over to see that it is sound, with no big cracks or flaking. If the stone is deteriorating already, cleaning it could damage it further.

Water and natural brushes are the safe way to clean the stone and not cause it damage. Wetting the stone and brushing away built-up dirt, pollen, and other elements from the bottom up is the best way to go. Use the toothbrush to carefully rub into the grooves of lettering.

You can use the wooden sticks to remove any lichens. Lichens are plants that form a leafy crust over stones over a period of time and the sticks can be used to scrape away the lichens without damaging the stone.

Once the stone has been cleaned, rinse it thoroughly with water.

Some cemeteries allow planting at gravesites, but again, inquire with them before doing so. Perennials could make a lovely addition to the site, though some maintenance is necessary for them to keep their beauty. Annuals require a good deal of water in their life cycle.

If you plan to plant, also prepare to keep up with it as Grandma would with her own garden. Weeding, pruning and love are needed to maintain a thoughtful, beautiful presentation, where your loved ones will feel at peace while visiting.

Grandma would appreciate it.

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