Cemetery visits: I guess it’s a personal decision

26 Sep

Kistenmacher Cemetery in Scott County, Iowa, in May 2008.

Kistenmacher Cemetery in Scott County, Iowa, in May 2008.

My wife Sherry and I visited some cemeteries on Memorial Day.

We placed wreaths on the gravesites of some dear departed relatives, and we held hands as we took turns praying aloud over each of their graves. I guess visiting cemeteries now and then is the right thing to do. And I accompany my wife because going to the cemetery at special times of the year, like Memorial Day and Christmas, is important to her.

But I’m not sure I’d visit the cemetery on my own if it were left up to me, even if it is the right thing to do.

Cemeteries are peaceful places with breezes blowing and birds singing where one can contemplate without distraction. But that’s the problem. The contemplation makes me sad.

I remember how much I cared about the person whose grave I’m standing over and how much I miss him or her. I guess I also feel guilty for the times I could have and should have spent time with that individual but didn’t because I was too busy living my own life.

But I deal with the sadness and the guilt and, ultimately, feel good about having visited the gravesites with Sherry on those special days of the year. Because it’s the right thing to do.

Some folks, though, don’t see it that way.

Andy Rooney, one of my favorite essayists, is one of them. His decision not to visit cemeteries is not based, however, only on the sadness one might feel there. In a piece called “Ashes to Ashes” from his book “Common Nonsense” (published by PublicAffairs, 2002) Rooney admits he has never returned to the cemetery where his parents are buried, and he explains why.

“It is not out of disrespect,” he writes. “I loved them and think of them frequently, but placing a wreath on their grave strikes me as a waste of flowers. It doesn’t make them feel good, and it doesn?t do anything for my psyche, so who besides the florist benefits?”He says being constantly aware of friends and relatives who are gone is too depressing to live with. “We have to move on.”Rooney concludes: “The best thing we could all do for relatives and friends we loved who die is make certain there is some written record of who they were and what they did.”

He says he doesn’t know much about his ancestors beyond his grandparents. “I would much prefer to have something on paper about them and about their parents and grandparents than a headstone in a cemetery.”You may or not you agree with Rooney about the value of cemetery visits, but his point about recording family history is a good one.

((Brian’s Note: Phil Roberts is a dear friend and a fantastic broadcaster. I respect him very much and I am glad to call him my friend.))

Copyright May 29, 2008. All rights reserved. This guest blog appeared on Brian Allen’s blogspace, “Brian’s Blog,” at KSFY-TV ( in Sioux Falls, S.D.

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Posted by on September 26, 2008 in Uncategorized


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