I remember Memorial Day when I was a kid was a pretty somber event, as it should be in some ways. I remember it was also called Decoration Day and was always celebrated on May 30, regardless of which day of the week that date fell on. Moving it so that it is officially celebrated on the last Monday of May has taken some of the meaning away. Many times it becomes more of a kick-off to summer with a 3-day weekend instead of what its original intent was. I am as guilty of this as anyone.
I also remember that the only decorations that were placed on the graves were either real cut flowers or imitation plastic ones. I know I am dating myself but we had not even progressed to the silk flowers that that now have a more authentic look than plastic. What is even worse is my grandmother would pick up the old imitation posies and then take them home and wash and spruce them up and reuse them. Ugh!
I am so glad that, as this Memorial Day rolls around, we have so many more choices and each of us can remember in a personal way. No longer is it “one size fits all.” If you take a walk through cemeteries in this day and age it is refreshing to see how families and friends are customizing the graves of their loved ones and celebrating the person who they were.
Even head stones have changed dramatically. No longer are the choices only red or gray granite with only names and dates engraved on the front. I especially like the black granite with the light gray engraving depicting a wildlife scene, or in other instances, a scene showing a departed one’s life work or where they called home. Names of children and other inscriptions are also being engraved on the back of the stones.
So, if head stones are progressing, why shouldn’t the way we dress them up also change? Of course, flowers will always be the number one way of remembering. I love the cradles that fit over the stone. They dress up the whole stone while being out of the way for the sextons to mow. Some flower shops are also offering a special service for those of us who can’t always be near the cemeteries where are family are laid to rest. Jim’s home is 500 miles away in Pennsylvania so, for a nominal fee, Philip’s Flowers out of Mercersburg goes three times a year and changes the flowers in the cradle for spring/summer, fall and Christmas. What a nice service for those of us who can’t always be there.
If you visit any given cemetery after dark you will most likely notice a glow. Many people take solar lights and place around the gravestones. These come in a variety of colors and depict anything from angels to crosses to stars to whatever. As long as you are within the cemetery rules, you can put up as many or as few as you like.
Another way of customizing is to take little mementos that reflect the life of the loved one. Most head stones are set on a base which has a small perimeter. I have seen everything from little toy tractors to knitting needles to dice and other small toys replicating the life of the loved one placed on this ledge.
Even more special is when people go to the trouble to make items. Grapevine wreaths and crosses and baskets of pinecones are just some of the homemade objects I have seen. Rustic boards or rocks with personalized sayings also add a nice touch. My Dad loved the yellow finches and was forever feeding and watching them. So, we have a couple setting on the base and also a finch birdhouse hangs on a shepherd’s hook over the stone.
Plants will always be associated with Memorial Day and some people like to go the extra mile and actually plant something that will return year after year. Many like to do rose bushes and small shrubs. I love to see these, except when they are neglected. Don’t forget, roses and most shrubs need trimmed and even though you may have good intentions, don’t forget to make plans for when you can no longer do the job yourself. Most cemeteries have strict rules on what you can and cannot plant for this very reason.
No matter how you wish to customize the graves of those you visit, don’t overlook the shepherd hook that I mentioned before. Almost anything can be hung on them; plants, knick knacks, wind spinners, and streamers, to name a few. They get the object up where it can be easily seen and also off the ground to make mowing and weed whipping easier.
I recently noticed a new trend when I visited the cemetery in Greens Fork, Indiana. Garlands of silk flowers are laid on top of the riser and at the base of the stone. These provide a nice break between the two and add a nice touch without being overbearing.
The object of anything placed on a grave is to have it stay there as long as possible. Plants and flowers are nice but they continuously need water. It’s refreshing to have choices and to be able to customize our cemeteries with a personal touch. It makes remembering on Memorial Day just a little bit sweeter.