I’m not sure at what point during our courtship my wife and knew we were headed for marriage, but it may have been around the time we realized we shared an odd interest: We each enjoyed visiting cemeteries.
After we married and before we had children, we visited the graves of nearly 10 presidents – sort of normal, I suppose — but we also walked through the old historic cemetery in the city and just about any small graveyard we stumbled upon.
It’s a fun and quirky habit I’ve maintained with my oldest son, who is 6, and one that I plan on continuing with his two younger siblings. Each time, we have a blast.
Perhaps you are confused as to why any parent would willingly take his or her child to a cemetery, over and over. Here are four reasons I do it, and you should, too:
1. Cemeteries lead to great spiritual discussions. As Christians, we should not be afraid to talk about death, even to our small children. We can talk about it openly because we have hope, because we truly will live forever, because we have found the answer the world is seeking. Scripture commands us to tell our children the Gospel, and there is no way to discuss the full story of salvation without dealing with death. Such conversations, though, always should be positive. After all, Jesus is alive and we will live for eternity with Him. When we’re in a cemetery, my son and I discuss death in the most stark and joyful terms. Sure, my oldest son and I could have such a discussion in his bed at night, but it’s always fun to find new and unique ways to do it.
2. Cemeteries are free, quiet and beautiful. You can’t beat that. Yes, I’ve visited some old run-down cemeteries that I’d avoid, but for the most part, cemeteries are some of the best manicured properties in town. If you like birds, squirrels and green grass, the local park probably has it, but it might be crowded. Try the cemetery. I’ve had great hikes with my oldest son through large and small cemeteries alike, and we’ve never left disappointed. We’re always respectful and we don’t run. Once, we saw some deer. Another time, we saw turkey. He always wanted to go back.
3. Cemeteries teach history. Each tombstone tells a story, even if it’s nothing more than the dates of the birth and death. How? Because each person lived through a unique moment in American history. Recently, we found an old tombstone of a person born in 1811. That’s a “so what” moment, until you realize that Thomas Jefferson and John Adams – men my son has read about — both were alive at that very moment. Minutes later, we saw one that had the date “1861” on it – the time of Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War. My son has learned about the military branches and the American wars simply from visiting cemeteries. We’ve even discussed God’s view of war. We’ve also seen tombstones engraved with 18 wheelers (must have been a truck driver), footballs (sports fan) and guitars (musician). (Find out what famous people are buried near you at FindAGrave.com.)
4. Cemeteries force you to contemplate eternity. Every time I step into a cemetery, I ask myself: How will I be remembered – and will God be pleased with my life? Cemeteries force us to think eternally, not materially, and that’s good. Our modern-day lives are consumed too much by the mundane, the unimportant, the fleeting, the insignificant. When I’m walking through a cemetery with my son, I’m rarely thinking about that football game, that movie, that hobby. I’m thinking: What’s really important in life? Yet too often we’re majoring on the minors, getting our lives out of order, and clueless that we’ve messed it all up. In a cemetery, we look at tombstone after tombstone and ask somberly: What do I want my engraving to say?
So take a trip to a cemetery, and bring your kid along. You just might start your own family tradition.
Michael Foust is an editor and writer who blogs about parenting and fatherhood. He loves his family and also really likes popcorn. Interested in re-posting this in your publication or on your blog for free? Send me a message in the comments section below (the message won’t go public).