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When looking to decorate a grave for Memorial Day, please don’t choose this:

Your typical, cheap artificial graveside arrangement.

Your typical, cheap artificial graveside arrangement.

I did not particularly care for these types of arrangements when I was little and had to help clean up cemeteries after Memorial Day. Rainwater would fill in these cones, making them really messy when I had to pick them up.

I had to find a picture of these on the Internet–surprisingly, the local stores I checked with this not have any fake graveside arrangements, which used to be ubiquitous this time of year even a few years ago. Perhaps as a society we are opting for more elegant remembrances?

Many people want to place something on a grave for Memorial Day, whether it be flowers (real or artificial) or some tchotchke. Before you place anything at a gravesite, first check with the cemetery caretaker or board president (if it’s a church cemetery, call the church and see if there are cemetery decoration guidelines). Some cemeteries will have rules posted at the entrance. For example, if you place artificial flowers or anything else there, it might be removed 2-3 weeks after Memorial Day if you do not retrieve it. For this reason, do not leave anything of great or sentimental value. In addition, you cannot rule out people stealing things from gravesites.

If you get the OK to place more permanent items at a grave, here are some alternatives to artificial flowers:


1) Real flowers. Geraniums were the overwhelming favorite at gravesites when I was growing up. They are a sturdy and colorful plant. Obviously this is an option only if you are close to the cemetery and willing to drive there once a week or so to water the plan. If that’s not an option, you might still be able to do this. First, check with the cemetery board. Larger cemeteries may water flowers for a fee. (That was my job growing up! I watered the cemetery flowers that people could not take care of themselves). Or maybe you know someone who lives nearby who could water the flowers for you. You also could arrange to do the watering duties on a rotating basis if you go in with three or four other families.

solar light

2) Solar lights. These lights can be as simple as a light on a stick, or more elaborate as you see here (keeping in mind the potential for thievery). This has become a popular option in the past few years. I drive by cemeteries at night and some are all aglow! I admit being a little creeped out by seeing small, glowing orbs in a cemetery at night.

Garden stone

3) A garden stone. These are sold as garden decorations, but they also can be appropriate for a grave. You can find ones with all sorts of sayings. Again, check with the cemetery board before placement. These can be large and heavy and can pose a hazard to lawnmowers and weed trimmers. Another option would be to place a small stone on the tombstone itself. You can buy small stones that fit into the palm of your hand that are inscribed with a meaningful word or two.

Remember that any restrictions to grave decorations are there to benefit those who work in the cemetery. Sharp, heavy or glass objects almost never will be permitted. Some cemeteries have stricter rules in place regarding aesthetics and won’t allow decorations perceived as “clutter.”

Memories ultimately live in our hearts. It’s OK to let a grave go undecorated; how little you decorate does not reflect how much you care about your loved one.

My memoir, We’ll Be the Last Ones to Let You Down: Memoir of a Gravedigger’s Daughter, is available here.