We recently visited the Republic of Estonia (see pictures below for a map of Estonia) to see our son, Kristjan, get married. While there, we had an opportunity to visit several cemeteries and visit with our Estonian family concerning cemetery customs.
The first cemetery was the Rannamoisa Kirik (church) cemetery near Tiskre, Estonia. It was very similar to American rural church cemeteries with the exception that there was a ‘storefront’ operation that operated on a limited basis selling flowers, crosses, plants and candles. A major difference was that families are responsible for the upkeep of the grave. There is no such thing as perpetual care. The level of care and appearance varied markedly due to variables such as family finances and a family’s proximity to the cemetery. For some families it is possible to only visit a grave once or twice a year, and one of those times may be the traditional Christmas Eve visit when no maintenance would be possible.
While visiting Rannamoisa Kirik, we observed a disparity of grave conditions and family plot conditions which are pictured. Some were manicured sand or planted with flowering plants and bushes. Others were overgrown with shrubs and weeds.
Likewise there was a difference between the ‘new’ and ‘old’ sections of the cemetery, not unlike the United States. The newer sections had a line of shrubs planted by the cemetery to designate rows. The older sections appeared more random although rows were somewhat distinguishable. Most individual graves or couples graves were ‘outlined’ with a definite border. It was easy to see that American style grave maintenance and mowing would be impossible.
The downside to no perpetual care is that if a grave is found to be in a state of disrepair, the cemetery may contact the last known owner by certified mail asking for them to put the grave in order. If not, the grave may be reclaimed by the cemetery, but our family knew of no instances where this happened.
Pictures from Rannamoisa Kirik Cemetery
Map of Estonia