06:57am Saturday 29 February 2020

The Matter of Death – how grieving relatives argue at the graveside

Dr Kate Woodthorpe’s latest research shows that families are often involved in disputes over items left in cemeteries.

In ‘The Matter of Death’, a book she co-edited with Professor Jenny Hockey of the University of Sheffield and Dr Carol Komaromy from the Open University,she talks about the politics of memorialisation in cemeteries.

Dr Woodthorpe, a lecturer in Sociology at the University of Bath and a member of Centre for Death and Society(CDAS), said: “People fall out over what other people are leaving on the grave.

“Through my research I have heard tales of arguments at the graveside over this. Public meetings on the issue have almost descended into fights.

“It is a real problem for cemetery staff.”

She added: “Some people put dangerous items on graves like burning candles, glass vases and galvanised metal railings. Food left at the grave can attract vermin.

“Then there are people who get angry about others placing plastic items on graves which they think make them look unsightly. During the course of my research I saw a three foot tall plastic monk at one graveside. Windchimes, cellophane wrapping around flowers, and stuffed animals in plastic bags can also particularly irritate other visitors.” 

Dr Woodthorpe joined CDAS in January 2010 as Programme Leader for the Foundation Degree in Funeral Services.  Previously she was a Lecturer in Health Studies at the Open University. Since completing her PhD in 2007, Dr Woodthorpe has had a number of articles and book chapters published on the cemetery environment and the experience of researching in this area.

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