Most cemeteries have specific rules regarding grave decorations which state what one can and cannot leave at the gravesite. Fresh flowers are mostly OK, but some graveyards strictly prohibit fake flowers, plantings and anything glass or plastic. These policies are put in place to help with maintenance (especially during mowing season) as well as to give the cemetery a certain ‘look.’ But these rules can be annoying for folks that lean on the creative side:
Behind the long ribbon of the cemetery wall all is quiet and damp and very grey. Rising from the ground at a hundred different angles, the headstones of Kensal Green, north-west London, are softened by lichen, moss and mildew. Beyond the older graves, this sombre scene is suddenly brightened by tropical splashes of colour: artificial yellow tulips, plastic poinsettia, fake lily of the valley, great sprays of plastic roses and other indeterminate artificial shrubs and flowers in vivid orange, purple and red.
The proliferation of plastic flowers bedecking ever more elaborate graveside memorials, featuring Pooh bears, T-shirts, flags, pictures and poems and windchimes and windmills, has sprung from a growing individualism, the mourning of Princess Diana, the spread of foreign traditions and even health and safety regulations that forbid glass and metal in graveyards. For many people these vibrant, personal displays are a vital expression of their relationship with the deceased. For others they are kitsch, shouty and intrusive.
Modern graves are far more humble – and more individualistic. In Kensal Green, they feature everything from a rain-soaked toy Eeyore left for a – presumably grumpy – grandad to framed pictures of dogs, snow globes, Chelsea T-shirts, caps and earmuffs.
One is adorned with a picture of a sunset, a poem for “mum” and a small half-drunk bottle of Glenfiddich. A memorial to a 21-year-old boy is dominated by a T-shirt hanging from a wooden cross with “playboy” on it; around his headstone is a lantern, a model flute-player on top of a wind chime, a poem and great splashes of colour from plastic floral arrangements.
Dr Kate Woodthorpe, a lecturer in sociology at the University of Bath, says such decorations are mourners “staking their claim” and emphasising that their loved one was important – and an individual.
“There are competing expectations about grief. For some people it’s about moving on. For others it’s about an ongoing relationship,” she says. “There is a view of stages of grief that ends with ‘letting go’. Some people don’t do that. They never will let go, and that is OK.”
I don’t have a problem with fake flowers, plastic windmills or whiskey bottles on a grave. If that’s how you choose to memorialize your loved one, then so be it. However, I think cemetery staff have every right to remove these decorations if they pose a hazard or get blown away by the wind. And really, some of these grave adornments are just hideous (yeah, I said it). But variety is the spice of life (or death?), I suppose.
Anyway, it’s nice to see flowers or other mementos on a grave – it shows that people still care about those they have lost. It’s the thought that counts. So, the next time I’m in a cemetery and I see a large basket filled with fake tulips and plastic bunnies, I’ll just keep it moving. To each their own:)
Do you think fake flowers/plastic decor should be banned in cemeteries?