It’s the time of year to visit a cemetery if you want a good scare. Cemeteries are haunted with all kinds of spooky stuff like ghosts, zombies, demons and vampires.

But otherwise, stay away from the land of the dead, right?

Wrong. Cemeteries are actually full of life – or let’s say insights about life. Besides being places to remember the departed, they remind us of our own mortality, help us focus on what’s important and get our priorities straight. Maybe that’s why I’ve always wanted to use a cemetery as a setting for a novel, as I finally did in How to Tend a Grave:

The grounds of Mount Hope and Glory Cemetery look like a huge and welcoming park. Winding pathways lead through tall, leafy trees. The ornate gates in the black iron fence stand wide open. Liam starts to feel better as soon as he passes through them. It’s so peaceful here in the cemetery. Like he’s stepped into another world. Which of course he has. He’s entered a place where time stands still. Where everyday things don’t matter.”

I love cemeteries, especially historic ones. But I understand why some people feel creeped out by them. They’re somewhat dystopian places, after all. Things in cemetery society have gone terribly wrong. The quest for everlasting life has failed and everybody is dead. The citizens are buried underground, in wooden boxes and cement vaults, in neat, straight rows. The grassy, park-like place where they’re imprisoned might look like paradise, but no one can escape. Ever.

So yeah, no. These aren’t things we like to think about. Another good reason to use a cemetery as a setting for a novel. Well, guess what? We’re all going to die someday. Fear of cemeteries isn’t going to change that.

But while we’re waiting to find out what comes next, cemeteries are great places to remember the past, contemplate the present and imagine the future. Even when we’re suffering the deepest grief, a cemetery can help us feel alive. As the character Harmony says in How to Tend a Grave:

I like going barefoot in the cemetery. The caretaker keeps the lawns so green and lush that I feel like I’m walking into a storybook. The velvety grass underfoot makes me want to dance around the mossy, old gravestones. And sometimes I do. I know that might sound freaky, but when I’m dancing in the cemetery I feel better, more connected to life, than I do at home or at school or any other time really.”

Trust me, when you want more than a Halloween scare and need some perspective on life, visit a cemetery.