It is October and nearing Halloween. I was directing a memorial service today and I saw this decorated grave. I reflected on the thoughts that others might have about this type of décor in a cemetery and I thought “This is beautiful too.” Complaints from the living regarding cemetery décor will always come from personal biases on what is appropriate and what is not. Skulls and coffins are among the taboos in regard to grave decorating. I believe the thought might be that “The dead should not be decorated with the dead” I get that. I can relate. If you are visiting your mother’s grave and two doors down you see skeleton hands popping out of the grass and a coffin headstone, it might be disturbing and give you a sense of what lies beneath your feet, your beloved mother.
Cemeteries can be owned publicly or privately. That being said, the cemetery deems what is appropriate décor for their property, like an HOA within a housing community. The rules differ between cemeteries which range from very strict to fairly liberal and every cemetery property has to take into account all of the patrons housed within their acres, which really means, the loved ones who visit the property. Cemeteries factor in all of the maintenance and expense it takes to traverse peoples’ personal property; the manpower it takes to dispose of wilted flowers, the hazards of balloons with their ribbons and the wire stakes that held any number of decoration revealing what was loved by the deceased. These accoutrements can cause damage to the expensive equipment needed to care for these spaces and create extra paid man hours of scouring the grounds for any threat of liability. It is a tricky and expensive endeavor to say the least.
As I looked at this grave with the skull and crossbones gating, the quintessential coffin shaped headstone, skeletal hands reaching out of the grass and black flowers in lieu of the “normal” cheerfully colored roses and daisies, I could only think of my front yard right now. I have foam headstones in various places, a skeleton who shrieks and shakes when prompted and a zombie scarecrow jutting out of the earth with blinking, colored lights in his eyes and, I smile. I get joy from these things because I love the holiday. I grew up where Halloween was meant for childish fun of dressing up scary, pulling tricks and collecting pillow cases of candy. When it is appropriate to decorate our graves with balloon hearts, shamrocks, Easter eggs, potted mums, birthday balloons and on and on for other holidays and occasions, how can one argue that if the love of the deceased was skull and crossbones gating for Halloween, why do some find it repulsive or disrespectful? Cemetery property is real estate, you own the property you bought. Even with an HOA, should we not be able to personalize our property on this Holliday deemed for ghosts and goblins? At your house, should you not be able to decorate your yard with the things you love according to the season? So, what is a grave but a form of housing after you die?
I commend this cemetery for allowing this simple treasure of personalization within their grounds, even if it means complaints or negativity from the deceased neighbors living relatives. I do not know the name or the age of the person housed within the décor of our October Holiday but I will bet that, in life, when the season rolled around, the coffin shaped headstones and shrieking, jiggling skeletons gave them a smile too.