Grave Tending: With Mom at the Cemetery


  • Carolyn Ellis University of South Florida



grief, cemeteries, death, autoethnography, loss, ritual


This autoethnographic story shows the process of tending the graves of family members. In the past, the author reluctantly accompanied her mother on her visits to the family cemetery. Once there, she took on the role of distant observer as her mother took care of the family cemetery plots. When her mother becomes disabled, the author begins to arrange the flowers on the graves. Doing so leads her to examine the meaning of visiting the cemetery, feel and connect with her losses, and consider the customs she wants to be part of her own death. When her mother dies, the next generation of women in the family—the author, her sister, and sister-in-law—take on the role of tending the graves, connected in their love and respect for their mother and their feelings of family and family responsibility. This story examines the meanings of family rituals around death and how they are passed from generation to generation. URN: urn:nbn:de:0114-fqs0302285


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Author Biography

Carolyn Ellis, University of South Florida

Carolyn ELLIS ( is Professor of Communication and Sociology at the University of South Florida in Tampa. She is interested in autoethnographic stories, especially family stories of love, loss, and grief, and is currently finishing a book on autoethnography as method.




How to Cite

Ellis, C. (2003). Grave Tending: With Mom at the Cemetery. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 4(2).