Stones on Graves: Keeping the Soul in Place

Once a year I try to accompany my mother to the cemetery to visit her parents’ graves. This year her cousin Robert joined us, to acknowledge the year’s passing since his mother, my Great-Aunt Sylvia died at nearly 101.  While he didn’t have a formal unveiling ceremony, he wanted to share his memories and honor her.  0-11

Looking around the vast sea of headstones in the manicured park of mowed grass and clumps of trees, I noticed there wasn’t a flower in sight. Jews don’t adorn graves with flowers, opting instead to place small stones on the top.  0-8 Though I’ve done this countless times in my visits here, I wondered why.

I consulted, as I often do when these kinds of questions arise, the erudite wisdom of Rabbi Internet, comparing sources my sons assure me are reliable.

Explanations vary. Here’s a sampling:

  • It’s a mitzvah (good deed) to bury someone and mark his/her grave. Once a person is buried, we mark the grave by adding a stone, replicating the act of erecting a tombstone symbolically.
  • Placing flowers is associated with pagan custom, therefore not consistent with Judaism.
  • Stones give a sense of permanence unlike flowers that fade.  Life is passing, like flowers. Memory is lasting; stones don’t die. The body, like a flower, blossoms and then fades away, but the soul, like a solid stone, lives on forever.
  • Stones help the dead “stay put,” preventing the soul from haunting the living.
  • The rich and the poor must be buried alike. (This is why all Jews—regardless of means—are buried in identical linen shrouds.) Placing flowers on the graves of the wealthy drives unnecessary barriers between the classes.

We placed stones on the graves and reminisced. 0-70-120-10

Scanned Image-45

“They were so large in life, “ said Robert.   And thinking of his mother, he added, “the hardest part is remembering that I can’t tell her things.”

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About cyclingrandma

I was a journalist (Danbury News-Times, Ct), before becoming a teacher, and continue to write for professional journals. I have written several study guides for Penguin Books and write for Education Update, a newspaper based in New York City. (www.educationupdate.com). I’ve interviewed many authors, college presidents, and scientists. I wrote “The Kentucky Derby’s Forgotten Jockeys” for Smithsonian Magazine's website, www.smithsonian.com. (April, 2009). Two essays have been published in book anthologies; one for Wisdom of Our Mothers, (Familia Books) and the other in “College Search and Parent Rescue: Essay for Parents by Parents of College-Going Students.” (St. Martin’s Press). I was a middle school Language Arts teacher for more than 10 years and have just completed a five year grant position under No Child Left Behind in Newark, NJ public schools. I have three children, two daughters-in law, and six grandchildren. I'm an avid cyclist, knitter, cook, and reader. I love theater, museums, and yoga.
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23 Responses to Stones on Graves: Keeping the Soul in Place

  1. Very touching Happy we helped Robert remember. Liked the picture of my fdolks at theier home

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  2. Very sweet.
    Thanks for making the trek year after year.

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  3. great picture of mom an Robert by the way!!

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  4. Adeena says:

    Wow I was really touched by this! I think it’s great that you go with Grandma every year…

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    • It worked out because I went to CT yesterday and we drove back to NJ today and her cousin took her back to NY for her to get the train back to CT. Otherwise, she really can’t drive there herself anymore.

      On Tue, Oct 29, 2013 at 9:04 PM, cyclingrandma

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  5. What a lovely tradition. Thanks for sharing this. I have not visited the graves of my relatives in so long. Seems like we only get a chance to go at the time of a funeral.

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  6. I like the concept of stones instead of flowers. I also like that there is no distinction based on wealth.

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  7. I love rocks and stones. Wonderful symbols.

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  8. hugmamma says:

    As a child I was naturally fearful of cemeteries. Now that I’m a senior, I feel calmer, more in sync with the souls that went before. Looking back at the road I’ve traveled, there’s a sense of fulfillment…I’m doing the best I can…and whatever happens next is fine. I love life, but I’m coming to terms with the after life.

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  9. tchistorygal says:

    Hi Lisa, Thanks for sharing that custom. I do like it. I’ve never been a flower person myself, and I hate plastic things that people leave on graves. They are so gaudy. A stone is perfect. 🙂

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  10. adinparadise says:

    Lovely post, Lisa. It’s so important to keep our loved ones alive in our hearts. 🙂

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  11. Coming East says:

    I remember putting stones on the graves of my grandfather’s grave so long ago. I’ve never been back to that cemetery, Beth Moses on Long Island, since my grandmother’s stone was erected because it was so far from Texas. Now that we are closer, I hope to go and make that pilgrimage. I liked reading your post and remembering, Lisa.

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  12. Nancy polster says:

    Thank you for these explanations. I, too, have always wondered. I always thought it was a permanent way of letting others know that the gravesite had been visited.

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  13. My brother and I make the trek to the end of Long Island every year to visit our parents’ graves. We have conversations with them and fill them in on the news of our families: silly, but it feels good to pretend we’re communicating with them.

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  14. hugmamma says:

    I like the idea of stones…permanent reminders, rather than flowers which fade and die. hugs for sharing…

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