‘Not just a place for us to bury our loved ones’: Memorial Day highlights importance of cemeteries

At the St. George City Cemetery on 700 South in St. George Utah, May 20, 2021 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — With Memorial Day on the horizon, many people will be traveling to cemeteries across the nation to pay their respects to soldiers who have passed on. These visits highlight the value of cemeteries as visitors reflect on the sacrifices made by those who served, they can also be places of peaceful reminiscence and meditation year-round.

A member of the Southern Utah chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution plants a new flag at the veteran’s gravesite at the Shivwits Cemetery, Shivwits, Utah, May 25, 2021 | Photo courtesy of Valerie King, St. George News

“Most people don’t go to cemeteries anymore or give reverence to those who served,” Valerie King, regent of the Color Country Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, said while reflecting on a recent visit she made.

Earlier that day, King and other members of the chapter visited the Shivwits Cemetery on the Shivwits Reservation in order to replace the small American flags planted next to each grave stone marking a Native American veteran.

While King has previously visited the cemetery as a part of the Wreaths Across America program that the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution has been heavily involved in since 2012, it was the first time she went for the “refreshing of the flags,” and it was an experience she said she will not soon forget.

“It really warmed my heart,” King said.

In the past, people would make an event out of visiting the cemetery on Memorial Day and even have picnics there, King said, but the main focus of the day was still giving their reverence and respect to the soldiers buried in those cemeteries. This is what Memorial Day should be about, she said.

The gravesite of a Vietnam War veteran at the Shivwits Cemetery, Shivwits, Utah, May 25, 2021 | Photo courtesy of Valerie King, St. George News

“It is said that, ‘A soldier dies twice: once wherever he takes his last breath, and he dies again when he’s forgotten,’” King said. “All of (these veterans) have preserved the freedoms we enjoy. Remember those who served and paid the ultimate price for those principles.”

Last year, most onsite events of Memorial Day at city cemeteries was greatly limited or canceled due the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, with concerns over the virus waning due to continuing vaccinations and lower case numbers, public events are being held again.

The Memorial Day Service at SunRiver returns Monday at 8 a.m. and will take place at the SunRiver Veterans Honor Park in St. George.

The city of St. George will also be holding a Memorial Day event on Monday at 10 a.m. presented by American Legion Post 90 at Spilsbury Mortuary on 110 S. Bluff St. (See Ed. note)

Cedar City will host their Memorial Day Recognition and Veteran’s Memorial Service at 10 a.m. at the city cemetery at 685 N. Main St.

‘A spot that is open and welcoming, being full of light and beauty’

Memorial Day is one of those times of year that the spotlight shifts to cemeteries as a place of remembrance and reflection. The rest of the year, people may not give these areas much thought unless they have a loved one buried there.

At the St. George City Cemetery on South 700 East in St. George Utah, May 20, 2021 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

“Memorial Day is like the Super Bowl for cemeteries,” said Barry Blake, the leisure services director for Washington City.

Washington City recently completed an expansion of its cemetery, which prompted a question: What is the value of a cemetery to a community?

Memorial Day is perhaps the highest day of visitation for many cemeteries; however, for those who have friends and loved ones buried at the cemetery, the ability to visit and remember them is year-round.

In a 2017 post featured on the Nutmeg State Cremation Society blog, the author shared the reasons why they felt cemeteries were important places:

Not just a place for us to bury our loved ones, cemeteries are wonderfully versatile spaces that are accessible to the entire community. They are, by their very nature, places of quiet reminiscence, even melancholy, at times. This makes them a perfect place to go to think about the things that are troubling you or take a leisurely stroll to simply enjoy a beautiful day. A cemetery is not a dark and dreary place, but is, in reality, a spot that is open and welcoming, being full of light and beauty. Any cemetery is an absolute benefit to any community and we encourage you to reconsider the previous stereotypes and instead focus on the good a cemetery can do.

Shane Moore, who was recently promoted as St George’s leisure services director, echoed the blog author’s sentiments.

“One of the main values of the cemetery is family can come and visit their relatives who have passed on,” he said. “It’s also a place of remembrance and reverence that’s also very relaxing and meditative.”

At the Washington City Cemetery, Washington City, Utah, May 20, 2021 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Cemeteries also hold historical value, Moore said, noting that there are some graves in the city cemetery that date back to the time of the Spanish Flu.

“It’s very interesting to see the dates (on the gravestones),” he said.

Another aspect of the historical significance of cemeteries is how they can add to the personal history of individuals and families involved in genealogical research.

Blake added that he felt that how well a cemetery is maintained can say a lot about the community where it’s located.

“It’s how you feel about those that came before you,” he said. “I think cemeteries, in a way, tell you about a city. It shows how those in the present honor the dead. You can tell how much a community cares by how its cemetery looks.”

As for those employees who look after the city cemeteries, Moore spoke highly of them.

“The people we have working at the cemetery care deeply about their job,” he said. “They are compassionate, caring, empathetic people.”

Ed. note: An earlier version of this article included information from a previous year’s Memorial Day event.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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