Cleaning Cemeteries for All Saints Day

Cemetery in Louisiana, USA
Cemetery in Louisiana, USA

by Irene Michel, Louisiana USA

Down here in South Louisiana it’s still hot. It’s even hotter when you’re working outside doing manual labor.

That’s what I would call washing and painting tombs, vaults and crypts in preparation for All Saints Day on November 1. It’s definitely not an easy task, but it’s one that’s taken seriously out of love for the deceased.

In our own family, my parents used to take care of the graves in the cemetery until they were too old and frail to help. Then, their children took over. Now, the grandchildren are doing the work because most members of our generation are too old to be out in the hot sun washing and painting the final resting places of our ancestors.

People go to their loved ones graves every year bringing buckets, brooms, mops and whatever else they think they’ll need to get the tombs sparkling clean. After that dries, these loving relatives bring paint (mostly white) to paint the tombs or vaults.

There is at least one source of water in the cemetery where those doing the cleaning can get clear water to better do their work.

Much of Louisiana is below sea level, so many graves are above ground.
Much of Louisiana is below sea level, so many graves are above ground.

When I went to the cemetery to clean my mom, dad, aunt and grandmother’s graves, I used to bring a scrub brush with me, and on hands and knees I scrubbed until all the dirt was removed from the gravesite. Several of us went together because even though we were a little older, we still felt strange going into a cemetery alone!

When all is clean in the cemetery, everything looks so nice. Unfortunately, there are a few vaults and tombs that are extremely unkempt.

To try to alleviate that problem, the Catholic Church of the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux, in South Louisiana, where many of our loved ones are buried, has offered a Perpetual Care package wherein the diocese cares for the graves of those who have purchased their policy. I feel quite sure other dioceses have offered the same service.

My husband’s family is buried in a different area of Louisiana, about a two and a half hour drive from our home. We hire a service to check on his parents’ graves and paint them when necessary. We found it impossible to take care of those ourselves because we could leave home in good weather, but by the time we’d get to that cemetery, it could be raining.

That cemetery has a much different look to it. When the sun shines, most of the vaults shine because they are painted with silver paint. It makes a beautiful picture. In that cemetery we walk around and notice that some tombs are open and trash has accumulated inside. I have no idea what happened to the bodies that were once interred there.

In some cemeteries all the graves are above ground because much of South Louisiana is below sea level. During hurricanes and flooding, one can see coffins floating in the high waters. Relatives make sure their loved ones are returned to their resting places.

Families in South Louisiana, for the most part, are very close. In death, they remain so. There is a healthy respect for family life which includes all members of the family, living and deceased.

Cleaning and painting graves is at its height just before All Saints Day on November 1 each year, but not limited to those times. Love doesn’t take a holiday where deceased relatives are concerned. Proof of that can be found in the cemeteries where real, live people take on the task of “housekeeping” for their departed kin.

This is often done as a spiritual remembrance of days when their loved ones were beside them here on Earth. One often sees heads bowed in prayer, and perhaps a tear or two can be seen flowing from the eyes of relatives or friends.

May all the souls of the faithful departed rest in peace, and may all those who tend to the final resting places of these departed loved ones find peace in their lives until they, too, are called. Amen.

Photos courtesy Natalie Maynor, Creative Commons.