Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Taphophile Tragics Tuesday


In my Sunday post I mentioned our Halloween/ All Saints Day traditions of visiting the cemeteries to light candles on family graves. In that post was a link to a post on the same theme from last year. And in that one a link to one from 2009. I put in these in more for my own convenience than anyone else’s, but should you follow them, you’ll find that this was never a favourite holiday of mine, quite the opposite. I definitely did not “enjoy” the autumnal graveyard visits back in my childhood; and I avoided them for most of my adult life.

However, in the past few years, with my own parents also passing out of time, I’ve had to find new ways for myself to deal with the churchyard traditions as well as other “facts of life and death”.


A comment on my Sunday post brought up a related topic that I’ve actually been thinking about a lot. As I wrote in a reply, personally I never really felt need of a tombstone or grave to go to, to remember those I knew who had died.

However, when my mum died (in 2009), dad was already suffering from dementia, but one thing he was still clear about was that he wanted a traditional earth burial in a new grave for her (and himself) in the churchyard in the village where they lived the last two decades of their life (which was also where dad was born and grew up). And then of course when he died two years later, he was buried there too.


Not driving, I can't get to that country churchyard on my own, and my brother lives far away; and after we’ve sold the House (hopefully next year) our visits will probably be even more rare. But we pay for all-year-round care (flowers in the spring and summer, a winter decoration in winter); besides our parents’ also for our paternal grandparents’ grave in the same churchyard.


I don’t know how it works in other countries; but here in Sweden, every grave must have someone registred as responsible for it, which includes either looking after it yourself, and keeping it both safe* and tidy, or pay a fee to the church to do so.


*As for the “safety” part, there was a tragic accident in a cemetery about a year ago, which made this a big national issue in Sweden. A child was killed by an old tombstone falling down on her. Can you imagine the tragedy?


Since then every standing tombstone in every cemetery in the whole country has been checked; and those found not to be secure have been laid down.


Graves that no one is willling to take care of any more shall be returned to the church. If an old grave seems not to be cared for any more and they don’t know who is responsible for it, a sign is put up and if within a certain period of time no one has been in contact, then it’s up to the parish graveyard administration to decide about it. Some very old or especially interesting tombstones are kept as being of historical value, but most returned graves are now “recycled”.


My parents looked after for several old family graves in that same churchyard where they now rest themselves – and they used to do it all themselves (planting flowers and weeding etc) until shortly before mum died. When they no longer could, it was a bit of an extra headache for my brother and me to suddenly have all these old graves to sort out besides all the more immediately important matters. And after dad died, we had six months to either find someone willing to take over, or else return them to the church.


Besides my parents’ and paternal grandparents’ graves I signed up to keep that of my grandfather’s grandparents (with whom he grew up) - a small anonymous-looking tombstone already lying flat in the grass (so it can’t fall down on anyone!), and without flowerbed. I still have to pay a small sum even for that now, just for them to trim the grass around it in summer, but never mind. There’s no real logic in it maybe, but I somehow “feel” for that grave because I know the couple buried there had such a hard life… 


Three graves on my paternal grandmother’s side of the family we decided to return (I also consulted one of dad’s cousins before doing so).

On two of these, the tombstones are still left standing (for how long I don’t know - the flowerbeds have been removed). This past weekend, when I was visiting the graves of my parents and grandparents, I had brought some extra candles, so I put one on each of those old graves too. I guess I’m still feeling a bit divided about it all… The thing is, I know more about some of the people in those old graves now, than I ever did before (because of various papers and photos that we did not find or had time to look at until after we’d already returned the graves).


Since four years back, I also happen to live in close vicinity to an old cemetery in town. I pass by it, or across it, every time I go into town, which means I often walk there several times a week.


We also have a small theatre group in town, who on a summer evening or two put up historical performances in the old cemeteries – “bringing back to life” historical characters from the past.


Walking in cemeteries these past four years, for all kinds of reasons varying between taking a convenient shortcut, attending funerals, visiting old family graves, just walking and contemplating, or taking part of entertaining local history lessons… has involved a lot of mixed feelings and thoughts.


Obviously, for some people a grave means more than it does to me… (This little “park” is not a public area but belongs to one, rather new grave.)

I’m curious to know more about the traditions in other parts of the world. Do you have old family graves, who takes care of them, and what do they mean to you? 

I’m linking this post to Julie’s Taphophile Tragics.#

The photos in this post are from three different graveyards/cemeteries, and were taken on various occasions between last summer and now.

# “Taphophilia is an interest, morbid or otherwise, in graveyards and cemeteries. Graveyards were attached to churches, whereas cemeteries were specifically set up for the burial of the dead.
A taphophile is one who finds they are attracted to walking around cemeteries, reading the headstones and musing upon the family history contained therein.”


  1. Such a wonderful post. I really enjoyed reading it. Beautiful pictures.

    Beneath Thy Feet

  2. Taphophilia i am not, although i do like to wander through very old cemetery's and read some of the names. here when we pay lots and lots and lots of money for the plot and even more to bury someone in the plot we paid for, it comes with what they call perpetual care. the cemetery takes care of cutting the grass. the one my parents are in, they have all flat stones for ease in cutting. the one next to them is hundreds of years old and historical, they still bury people there but not many plots are left. the cemetery uses that money to take care of it. some families choose to care for it. but as far as i know there are none that require the family to take care of it or charge them to do it.
    your cemetery's are just beautiful, so it looks like the plan you have works very well.

    1. I don't think I'm a proper taphophile either. I do find some of the old gravestones more interesting than the newer ones though, because often they carry more information, like dates and titles. Some of our family graves just have the name of the head of the family (the man!) and "family grave", no dates or even the names of who else is buried there (usually also the wife and sometimes other family members too). For a stranger, that really does not provide much to contemplate on!

  3. This was a fascinating read.
    The theatre group sounds like a wonderful idea for bringing history to life (in a cemetery!)

    1. The dramatized graveyard walks have become very popular here, and I think they do serve to make us more aware of the town's history and some prominent people of the past (who were well known in their own time but have dropped out of memory with later generations).

  4. Very interesting indeed. I grew up next to a cemetery and played in it for year growing up. I always loved the cool grass, shade of trees, and reading the names and dates and stories on the stones.

    I just posted an old cemetery on my post from our trip to Idaho.

    I had not heard of that graveyard tradition.

    1. I think some of my childhood aversion to cemeteries came from too many of the visits taking place this time of year, in the dark, and often in awful weather too! None of "our" graves were close to where we lived then. It was not until very recently that I came to live so close to a cemetery that it became a place to just stroll around in without a sense of hurry to get the visit over with.

  5. What beautiful shots of the graveyard - so much history there. I like graveyards as it reminds me to cherish life.

    1. Fi, They are indeed a place to contemplate matters of life and death!

  6. Graveyards do hold a special appeal to me; the older, the better. When I was a child, I loved going to look after our family tombs with my Mum or my Grandma; to me, the cemetery was a beautiful park, quiet and peaceful, with many birds and squirrels living in the large old trees.
    In my hometown, we have three cemeteries that are currently in use, and one where no new graves have been added for many decades now. On that old cemetery, the last king of Wuerttemberg and his family are buried, as well as some artists, inventors, military and other people of historic meaning for our area.
    Usually, people pay for a grave for a certain amount of years; I think it's around 30 years but it might be less. When that period ends, the lease can be renewed or the grave goes back to the community and will be used again.
    How could a tombstone falling over kill a child? I can not imagine how that happened, but I've seen unsafe tombs cordoned of on the church yard in Ripon.

    A friend of my grandma's used to walk to the cemetery every day after her husband died, for years, until she was too ill to do so. She said she needed this daily visit and talked to her husband there as if he was still alive. My husband has never set foot on the cemetery here in my town, and so that place has no relation to him at all.

    1. There was an article in yesterday's paper to remind of that tragic accident. The girl was eight years old and apparently she was just running ahead of her parents trying to find the grave they were going to visit... It's so sad. I don't know the details exactly how it happened, but from the headstones I have seen laid down on the ground in old cemeteries since then, it is evident that with time, the iron pegs supposed to secure a standing headstone to its foundation, can be corroded by rust, and eventually, it may not take all that much of a push to cause some stones to tip over. Since last year, national rules or guidelines have been set up for how to check security in this respect; before, each graveyard had its own routines. I know that when one pays for all-year-round care of a grave, a yearly check of the gravestone standing straight (and correction if it's not) is supposed to be included; so I suspect it's the ones in private care that may have been neglected.

  7. This was a lovely post to read, and very thoughtful. Not everyone in my family is buried in a cemetery, but we do try to make yearly visits to the places where they are.

    Perpetual care seems to vary cemetery-by-cemetery where I live. I just visited Cave Hill Cemetery in Kentucky, and the woman in the office told us that when a family has a burial now, part of the money they pay goes towards upkeep of the older stones that no longer have family to pay for the perpetual care. It seems like a nice arrangement.

  8. Lovely pictures, and interesting to think about.

    Definitely cemetery-by-cemetery around here (Oakland, CA). The largest, Mountain View Cemetery, when people purchase plots, or spaces in a mausoleum or columbarium, it goes to a non-profit corporation which supports the maintenance of the whole cemetery.

    I find cemeteries interesting because of all the history in them. Mountain View Cemetery goes back to the founding of the city of Oakland, and many well-known figures in Oakland and California history are buried there. The cemetery does regular tours to teach people about the history.

  9. I really dislike it when I do a comment and Blogger swallows it as it did with this one. The post was interesting and illuminating. Perhaps the rest of what I said was deemed to be irrelevant by the gods of Blogland.

    1. Oh no. I hate it too when that happens. I checked extra to see if it had got stuck in comment moderation (which I have turned on for posts older than a week) but it had not. If any thought on the topic is still lingering in your mind, it is most welcome.

  10. Some of the replies from the US mention plots being bought, and some of the money going towards upkeep of the old graves as well. I should perhaps add that here in Sweden, we do not play for the plot as such, as that is included in the taxes we pay. Everyone has a right to a grave for... I think 25 years from their death. The headstone is paid for out of the estate after the deceased. It is also possible to pay sum in advance for the care, I heard recently though that they've changed it so you can no longer pay for an exact number of years, but you can deposit a sum and each year they will deduct the current fees. I get a bill each year though.


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