It used to be the thing to do. At some point in your life you began thinking about your eventual demise, so you prudently invested in a burial plot for you and your spouse – and maybe the kids too – in the local cemetery. You found some plots near where your parents were buried where you and your spouse could be buried side by side for eternity. Uncle Jack and Aunt Mary were buried close by too, along with a lot of other relatives you never knew, so you felt contented knowing that you would have your family around you for company when the time came.
It was comforting, too, to know that your gravesite would be cared for by the conscientious cemetery staff to keep the weeds trimmed, the trees pruned, and your marker intact. And the thought that your surviving family members could visit you from time to time made you feel good too.
Realty is often something quite different.
Countless cemeteries across the country are in a state of neglect – some vanishing altogether under the assault of vandalism, development, Mother Nature, and the economy. Small-town America has been particularly affected where families have moved away and financial resources have dried up.
Perhaps it won’t matter to you when you are ten feet underground in your nice warm comfortable casket in your waterproof vault below your expensive headstone. Or will it? What happens above ground may not be as certain.
Your cemetery might have been in good condition when you purchased your plot, and your family was all living under the same roof (or at least the same neighborhood) at the time, but circumstances can change after you’re gone – and they usually do.
Long after you are dead and buried, your cemetery – unless it is federally funded – could easily fall on hard times, and budget reductions could result in layoffs and lack of maintenance.
It’s usually the grass that goes first. You see, grass doesn’t grow well without water, and water is expensive. Many western states, in particular, have resorted to native conditions, which means a lot of dirt and no greenery. For those cemeteries that still have grass, it doesn’t take long for it to completely hide an old marker until you wouldn’t even know it was there unless it is regularly cut and manicured.
Of course, weeds grow anywhere with or without water, and they will. They multiply quickly, too, and sometimes they can grow taller than your headstone (unless you are the most important person in your family plot and your monument towers over the rest).
Trees grow more slowly, but if they aren’t regularly pruned, they can quickly expand into areas where they shouldn’t be, and they can soon overrun and completely obscure any adjacent markers.
Cemeteries are also magnets to pranksters, partyers, lowlifes, and vandals. After all, there is nothing better than a nice quiet cemetery – especially one on the outskirts of town or in the country – where they can have a good time wreaking havoc without any consequences because there is no security. They have no respect for the dead anyway, so they have no qualms about knocking over or defacing marble headstones (the bigger the better) vandalizing mausoleums, or doing “wheelies” with their dirt bikes over gravesites.
Mother Nature cannot be discounted either with wind, rain, floods, snow, and more that can all take a terrible toll on cemeteries – especially if there is no one to clean up the mess and repair the damage. The sinking and washing away of Louisiana’s cemeteries is just one example of the destructive power of nature.
Your family? They will remember you, of course, and lovingly honor your memory. But once your children scatter across the country seeking better jobs, to get married, or go to school, they probably won’t be back to visit your grave very often, and the visits will likely become fewer and far between. So much for sentimentality.
If your family isn’t around anymore to watch over things, things are even more likely to go downhill. In fact, many family cemeteries and small town cemeteries have been grossly neglected and virtually abandoned as families move away or those who remain behind expire, and there is no one left to care.
Cemeteries will be always be around – in one form or another – because of the certainty of death, but the fate of many of America’s existing cemeteries is less certain unless someone starts caring.
As for the traditional burial, just because you pay a lot of money for your own private hole in the ground doesn’t give you any security even if your cemetery is well-maintained after your demise and even if your family continues to put flowers on your grave every day because the government can step in at any time and move you anywhere they want. Consider that the State of New Jersey recently applied the principle of eminent domain to relocate more than 7,000 graves in Camden for a highway project.
Where you are buried (or if you are buried) and how is up to you, but don’t have any illusions after you are gone about how your grave will cared for…or where your remains might end up.