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Losing a loved one introduces you to a whole new world of discussion and decisions, often on unfamiliar territory and involving vocabulary that might feel entirely foreign to you. A good funeral home will guide you through each decision, step by step, taking the time to help you understand all of the options available to you. This is often the case when it comes to choosing the burial site: a cemetery or a graveyard.

Most people use the terms interchangeably, and therefore, believe they represent the same thing. In fact, there are both similarities and differences between a cemetery and a graveyard, and the more you understand each, the more empowered you’ll be to make a good decision.

This article discusses the history, similarities, and differences between cemeteries and graveyards to help guide you as you work to honor the life of the deceased.

Church association

The primary difference between a cemetery and a graveyard has to do with its association or lack of association with a church. Graveyards are traditionally run by a church and located on the churchyard, or on the grounds or campus of a church. Cemeteries, on the other hand, are generally not associated with any particular church but are, instead, run by a council and located apart from any particular church.

Religious beliefs of the decedent

Because graveyards are generally run by a specific church, those buried in a graveyard were either members of that church or expressed a desire to be buried in that graveyard upon their passing. This means that graveyards are reserved for Christians. In contrast, cemeteries are open to those of all faiths (or no faith at all). Those who didn’t regularly attend any specific church or identify as belonging to any particular church body are often buried in a cemetery instead of a graveyard.

Space requirements

Historically, churches were entirely responsible for the burial of the dead. However, over time, church graveyards began to run out of space and non-church-associated cemeteries were born to accommodate the need for space. For this reason, graveyards are often small, confined to the campus of the church, while cemeteries can be quite expansive.

Headstone guidelines

As a generalization, the rules and regulations for headstones are much more conservative in a graveyard than they are in a cemetery. For example, churches may require that the headstone be made of stone or granite, subdued in nature, and contain conservative, Christian inscriptions, whereas cemetery rules may be much more forgiving, allowing you to choose any headstone and inscription you’d like. Particularly elaborate headstones are often prohibited in graveyards.

Memorial maintenance

Whether you choose to lay your loved one to rest in a graveyard or a cemetery, you’ll most likely be responsible for maintaining the memorial. Maintenance of the gravestone includes:

  • periodic cleaning: wipe down the memorial using an appropriate gravestone detergent and a cloth that won’t scratch the finish
  • periodic inspection and maintenance: check the gravestone for cracks or other issues and arrange for necessary repairs; respond to safety concerns brought by cemetery owner if damage makes the gravestone or memorial unsafe
  • placement of flowers and plants: if permitted, maintain your loved one’s memorial by planting or placing flowers and plants, maintaining them, and removing them when they wither

Your funeral director should provide you with the regulations surrounding gravestone maintenance in the graveyard or cemetery you choose for the loved one who has passed away.

Cost of the burial plot

The cost of the burial plot is relatively consistent between cemeteries and graveyards. Differences depend on factors other than church association, including:

  • the size of the burial plot (single, companion, family, or cremated remains burial plot)
  • whether the cemetery is public or private
  • whether the cemetery or graveyard is in a rural area or an urban area (urban cemeteries are more expensive)
  • whether the graveyard or cemetery requires you to use a grave liner or burial vault; these can range from $400 – $5,000
  • the cemetery or graveyard’s interment fees, which are charged for opening and closing the grave, replacing the sod on top of the grave, and filing legal record of the burial

Visiting hours

A common question we answer is, “Is it illegal to go to cemeteries at night?” While the differences aren’t specific to graveyards or cemeteries, some burial grounds have established visiting hours accompanied by gates that close and lock after those visiting hours end for the day. It’s important to know what restrictions will be placed on visitation when you choose a burial plot.

Length of ownership

One similarity between graveyards and cemeteries is the length of ownership. If you’ve considered asking, “how long do you stay buried in a cemetery?” the answer is typically 100 years or more. Plots are sold for 50 to 100 years, but it’s unusual to remove anyone from the burial grounds unless the need for space requires it.

Questions to ask your funeral director

It’s important to have as much information as possible when you make the important decision about your loved one’s final resting place. Things to ask the funeral director before you proceed include:

  • What are my options?
  • What rules and regulations apply in each case?
  • What is the cost of a plot in each burial ground we’re considering?
  • Which burial grounds require use of a grave liner or vault?
  • What are the fees for opening and closing the grave and other associated costs?

Things to consider when making a decision

There are a number of things to consider when determining your loved one’s final resting place. First, did your loved one share their wishes prior to their passing, preplan their funeral, or purchase a plot prior to their death? Or, if not, is their spouse or other immediate family member buried nearby? Is there a desire to bury them together?

Then, consider church membership. Was your loved one a member of a local church? Does that church have a graveyard on-site? Today, many churches do not have a graveyard, so church membership doesn’t immediately equate to a graveyard burial.

Think about the location of each burial ground and its proximity to those left behind. Who will likely visit the grave most often, and will they be near enough to do so? Are there loved ones still living in the area where the decedent will be laid to rest? Also, is there enough room for their companion, if applicable, when they pass away?

Of course, comparing your budget to the options available is an important step in the process. How does your budget compare to burial costs at the different burial grounds you’re considering?

Losing a loved one is challenging enough; staying fully informed and working with a compassionate team to make arrangements for burial and services can ease the burden on you. Visit Mountain View Funeral Home and Cemetery in Mesa, Arizona, today to learn more.