4 Ways to Create Meaningful Experiences in Cemeteries

Cemeteries are fighting to remain relevant in a shifting culture that’s moving away from the want and need for physical burial spaces. 

Not only that, cemeteries are falling out of relevance for many other reasons as well…

For example, today’s culture is less religious than it was just decades ago. 

And then there’s location. How many of us live in the same place we were born? Many of us do not see a want or need to be buried in a cemetery if our family does not live nearby. 

Finally, let’s talk about costs. The financial investment of having a loved one buried has been a HUGE barrier to many seeking end-of-life services. Let’s face it — not many people want to spend thousands of dollars on a burial anymore. 

And this trend isn’t just targeting cemeteries —  trends in deathcare today are reflecting that many of us do not want to have a funeral at all

I know this might sound intimidating or depressing at first, but there’s a flipside.

We tuned in to Jason Troyer and Lynn Gibson’s session at the 2019 ICCFA conference this spring, and they had a lot of wisdom to share with cemetery owners.

The gist of it is that although the expectations and culture are changing, cemeteries have the opportunity to continue to be places that have a hand in long-term human well-being by providing comfort, meaning, and hope. 

How can you create these kinds of meaningful experiences? Here are 4 ideas:

1. Create a comforting environment

Oftentimes, signage in a cemetery is prohibitive – no unleashed dogs, no visiting after hours of operation, etc. While rules are important to maintaining a sacred space, as cemetery professionals we should think about the messages and feelings our signage is putting out. 

How can we use our signage to focus on creating a sense of calm and peace? As mentioned above, the individuals visiting cemeteries today are less religious than previous generations. Fostering comfort should include those that are non-religious yet still comforting and inclusive. Get creative , and you might be surprised how people begin to interact with your cemetery differently.

2. Offer opportunities to engage in ritual

Cemeteries don’t have to be reserved for burials and the occasional family member paying his or her respects. Offering interactive features to allow the visitors to engage in rituals will enhance their experience and make it more meaningful to them. For example, offering themed stations with a physical component will encourage interaction and purpose, such as an “acceptance” station with a “time machine” feature (read on!). 

3. Foster connection and ongoing bond with loved ones

The word “closure” can be overused in the funeral profession. Do we ever really, truly seek full closure with our loved one who has passed? And do we really want to achieve closure? 

Instead of promoting cemeteries as a place of closure, instead we should shift our thinking to view them as places to continue our bond with our loved ones. Interactive features like a “time machine” that allows visitors to physically move different concentric rings to reflect a day, month, and year of an important date in their lives can help them feel closer to their loved one who has passed. 

4. Facilitate reflection

Cemeteries are naturally reflective spaces. We often visit to reflect on our memories with the individual who we have lost. What if we could further enhance visitors’ reflection with signage and informational resources that prompt reflection on common questions like, “Will my loved one be forgotten?,” “What actions can I take to help me heal?,” and “How do I avoid feeling stuck in grief?” 

Equipping visitors with a journal as they visit the cemetery  is not only good marketing, but also helps connect them to important resources and encourages reflection. 

In the end, it’s all about encouraging visitors

When cemeteries become meaningful places full of ritual, reflection, and comfort, visitors will want to come back more often. Offering interactive opportunities throughout cemeteries is a key piece in helping make the cemetery a more purposeful and meaningful place with which to engage. 

What else can you do to encourage visitors to want to come back to engage with your cemetery? Tell us in the comments below!

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About Jason Troyer

Jason is a psychology professor, former counselor, grief researcher, speaker, and consultant for businesses who want to better serve grieving families. He’s  also the Founder of Mt. Hope Grief Services

About Lynn Gibson

Lynn is a Funeral Services Professional and Interdisciplinary Social Researcher, as well as the Managing Partner of Smith Funeral & Cremation and Cremation by Grandview.