Lakewood Cemetery: The Haven in the Heart of the City
Construction of Lakewood’s Memorial Chapel was completed in 1910. Photo by Ryan Patchin
150 years of history spread over 250 acres of pristine lakes-area real estate; Lakewood Cemetery is the haven in the heart of the city.
Beyond memorial and burial services, Lakewood Cemetery serves as an unassuming host to some of the most incredible art and architecture in our state (and beyond). Lakewood is a surprisingly versatile space, playing host to weddings, themed tours, birdwatching events—and of course a serene space for remembering loved ones.
I wanted to learn about Lakewood Cemetery—their traditional offerings, as well as their nuanced ways to celebrate the life of a loved one and experience Lakewood’s tranquility. I sat down with Julia Gillis, director of outreach, and Kelly Leahy, director of family services, to learn more about the property.
What are the most common ways people choose to celebrate the life of a loved one?
At Lakewood, the most common way people celebrate the life of a loved one is to have a ceremony and/or reception with family and friends, which has been very challenging this past year during the pandemic—because of the limits on how many people can gather.
The grieving and remembering process is ongoing—people move forward, but they never forget. That’s why Lakewood is shining a light on the many ways that people can bring more creativity and meaning to memorialization, both at the time of death and long after. Here are some examples that anyone is invited to do at Lakewood:
- Lakewood’s Living Memory Tree – which holds hundreds of messages of love and remembrance on a colorful sea of ribbons
- Lantern Lighting Celebration – an annual event (in September) where families and community members remember loved ones by decorating a floating lantern with personal messages and images – and then collectively floating the lanterns on Lakewood’s lake in a ceremony at dusk
- Memorial Tree Program – people can sponsor the planting of a new tree at Lakewood in memory of a loved one
- The Lakewood Experience Series of events is intended to bring new depth and meaning to the subjects of dying, death, and remembrance through personal reflection and creative expression. Examples include: An event called Midsummer Memory Mandalas (where you can make your own nature mandala in memory of a loved one), meditations on embracing death, and art therapy sessions (currently virtual). All experiences are designed to encourage personal reflection and creative expression.
What new trends are you seeing?
During the pandemic, we have seen that many families—who have chosen cremation—are also choosing to wait and hold the memorial service sometime in the future, when it’s safe to gather more people. We’ve also seen families choose to record or livestream their memorial service so that more of their family members and friends can participate. It’s not the same as having friends and family with you in person, but it can be helpful.
Before the pandemic, we started seeing other trends that have continued:
- A desire for natural burial practices. There are varying levels of how “green” a burial can be—but essentially, it’s about people wanting more environmentally friendly options, such as burying without embalming or choosing a bio-degradable urn or casket. Lakewood is exploring offerings in this area.
- Emerging roles such as death doulas and funeral celebrants are also growing in popularity. These roles are varied, but essentially, they help guide individuals and families as they navigate end-of-life—either for themselves or a loved one. This includes helping people discover how to create meaningful ways to celebrate a loved one’s life.
- A greater number of online ways to remember are emerging to help with end-of-life planning and remembrance—examples include: Find a Grave, Epilogg, My Wonderful Life, Cake, and others. Lakewood offers a burial search: Burial Search – Lakewood Cemetery, and we have been working over the past years to add obituaries and historical information as we obtain it.
How has COVID impacted how you conduct services? Any loosening of restrictions?
We’ve done everything we can to serve families without interruption—while still following safety legislation and guidelines. We recognize the importance and weight of making decisions about memorialization, especially when families are grieving. These are very personal and emotional decisions and often our advisors will have numerous conversations with families to help them understand their options.
In terms of choosing a memorial site, families often need or want to be here in person to see the physical spaces that are available. We made the commitment to be available to serve families in person whenever possible—but we can also serve families via phone and email when needed. Our Family Services advisors will tell you that hardest part has been not being able to give hugs to the families we work with!
Another outcome of the pandemic is that it’s made people reflect on the possibility of their own and/or a loved one’s death, and that has driven many people to reach out to Lakewood and ask a lot of questions about planning ahead and understanding their options.
There was a point at the beginning of the pandemic when we had to temporarily close our buildings to the public, but we reopened them as soon as it was safe to do so. We continue to have to restrict the numbers of people gathering in spaces (to meet social distancing requirements), but yes, some of these restrictions have loosened recently. For example, we’ve now been able to open our reception space back up, which provides families with space to spend a bit more time together after a service or ceremony.
Is Lakewood still selling plots? Who does Lakewood serve?
Yes, we have many options for memorial sites at Lakewood. Many people think we are full because we are a historic cemetery—in fact, Lakewood is not full—but we are celebrating 150 years this year!
Lakewood is a nonprofit cemetery association open to all people, and proceeds from sales are invested back into the cemetery. To celebrate our 150th, Lakewood is opening our doors and inviting the community to get to know us better (More at lakewoodcemetery.org/150).