Remembering loved ones with decorating tradition

The holidays are a time for celebrating, but for many area residents they are also a time for remembering loved ones who have passed away.

One area family is remembering loved ones by making a festive grave-side display at the Sunset Memorial Funeral Home’s cemetery, Sunset Memory Gardens in Parkersburg.

“(My sister-in-law) decorates her brother’s grave,” said Angie Dotson, 47, of Reno. “There are always angels and tinsel and the whole nine yards. They go all out.”

Dotson said decorating is a way for remembering loved ones during the holidays.

The tradition of decorating graves started in the U.S. after the Civil War and was initially practiced on Memorial Day to honor soldiers.

Georgene Johnson, library service associate at Marietta College’s Legacy Library, said the tradition was started in the South.

“It was during Memorial Day,” she said. “It was known then as Decoration Day. After the Civil War, especially in the South, the graves of the soldiers were decorated.”

Grave decorating soon became mainstream. Many thought of decorating as a way to provide for the departed soul in the afterlife.

Decorations most common today are flowers, but many decorate with angels and can vary the decoration themes for seasons and holidays.

Dotson said her sister-in-law, Cathy Beall, never misses a holiday.

“They always do a Christmas tree,” she said.

Beall, 52, and her husband John, 52, of Parkersburg, never miss an opportunity to add a festive display to Cathy’s brother, Brad’s grave.

Cathy said she’s been decorating the grave, located in the Garden of Love, since 2000, when he passed away.

“(I decorate) every birthday, Christmas and season change,” she said. “We’ve never missed a Christmas yet.”

“It’s out of respect for them,” she added. “We want to let them know we’re thinking about them.”

“I bring her here because she wants to come,” John said. “You come here, and it’s really peaceful.”

“It’s a special tradition,” Cathy added. “It’s something I need to do.”

Cathy said that her mother, Luetta, died in February.

“This is our first time decorating for mom, too,” Cathy said.

Her mother’s and brother’s graves are side-by-side. Cathy said that before her death, her mother always visited the grave with them and helped decorate.

“It’s a way of remembrance,” Cathy said. “All day long, every day I remember them…I always cry (when I come here) and I talk to them.”

John said that coming to a cemetery, even if was just decorating, makes you really think about life and how short it can sometimes be.

“The short life that we have on this earth, you better make the most of everyday,” he said.