While biking in Pensacola recently, I stopped at a fairly new cemetery for a brief rest before turning back. The cemetery had no gravestones, only bronze markers, but many were elaborately decorated. Walking among them, I noticed an unusual number were memorials for children ranging from stillbirths to toddlers, to teenagers, to young soldiers killed in Vietnam. Here is an example. (Click to enlarge. Click again for details.) You can see many more posted at www/flickr.com/photos/misterearl
The outpouring of grief was palpable, and my sympathies went out to the surviving parents. They had decorated the graves with artificial flowers; small toys, such as cars, beads, and airplanes; small statues of angels, kittens, and dogs; plaques with heartfelt quotes of remembrances, and, on almost all, solar-powered pathway lights. It looks tacky in the photos, but the survivors were expressing their grief, not making an artistic statement. I know from experience the death of a child leaves an overwhelming feeling of helplessness, of a total inability to provide anything more for them. If placing toys on the grave eases that feeling, even a little, by all means, do it.
Most people my age I talk with want to be cremated and their ashes scattered, but I tell them the dead have no legal rights. Your body belongs to the next-of-kin and they can do with it whatever is legally permissible. Seeing these grave sites makes me think this is a good idea. If the survivors can sooth their grief by buying a piece of ground and making it into a holy spot of remembrance, let them. The gesture is beyond arguments of theology and logic . . . and our own preferences while still living.
From my observations at the cemetery, the intense grieving process seems to last about five years. Graves older than that were often unkempt. The plastic toys were degraded by the hot sun, the ceramic statues broken or fallen over, the plaques pledging everlasting memories, cracked. Perhaps the parents have since moved away, or divorced. Life moves on, and life is for the living. An unkempt cemetery is a healthy sign of life continuing.