Cemeteries are cornerstones for many communities. They act as a place for disposition, a dedicated area for memorialization, and an accessible space for contemplation on mortality and loss.

Cemeteries can also provide additional and complementary programming that invites folks to visit the cemetery, learn about its history, and be a hub for connection, conversation, and collectivity. This can range from walking tours and bird watching, to theatrical productions and social dancing. The folks responsible for imagining, planning, and executing this programming inhabit the role of a Cemetery Programs Manager!

AH Headshot

Amizetta Haj

To learn more about Cemetery Programs Managers and all that is involved in their multi-faceted roles, we spoke to Amizetta Haj, the Director of Community Engagement at Forest Lawn. Forest Lawn is a not-for-profit and non-sectarian cemetery in Buffalo, New York, currently home to nearly 170,000 permanent residents across 269 acres including three spring fed lakes and the meandering Scajaquada Creek. Mandy from the TalkDeath team recently toured Forest Lawn and experienced its serene beauty in person.

Amizetta Haj is behind the well-rounded programming Forest Lawn boasts throughout the year that engages community members across Buffalo.

Careers in Death Care: A Day in the Life Series

Careers in Death Care – Your Career Options
A Day in the Life of an Aquamation Tech

A Day in the Life of a Cemetery Planner
A Day in the Life of a Cemetery Programs Manager

A Day in the Life of a Cremation Technician

A Day in the Life of a Gravestone Conservator

A Day in the Life of a Death Doula

A Day in the Life of an Embalmer
A Day in the Life of a Forensic Artist
A Day in the Life of a Funeral Director
A Day in the Life of a Funeral Celebrant
A Day in the Life of a Green Cemetery Director
A Day in the Life of a Hospice Nurse
A Day in the Life of a Hospice Physician

A Day in the Life of a Pathologist

Careers in Death Care: A Day in the Life of a Cemetery Programs Manager

Tell us about yourself and what brought you to become a Cemetery Programs Manager?

Main St. Gate, Forest Lawn Cemetery

Thank you to Amizetta Haj and Forest Lawn for sharing these images.

I’m a historian and museum professional, raised and educated in Western New York. I hold a Master’s Degree in Museum Education & Visitor Experiences from Buffalo State University. As part of my studies, I completed extensive research on the Arts & Crafts Movement in America and the role of Elbert Hubbard’s artisan community, the Roycroft Campus, located in East Aurora, NY. As a result, I served on the staff of the Roycroft Campus for over a decade, where leading the development of the Campus’ Visitor Center and Museum, curating their artifact collection and historical exhibits, and creating educational programs and tours. In early 2023, I transitioned into my current role at Forest Lawn Cemetery as the Director of Community Engagement, cultivating tours and programs centered around the cemetery’s history and the legacy of its nearly 170,000 permanent residents.

What inspired you to become a Cemetery Programs Manager?


FL Historical Marker

I am a storyteller at heart, and one of my favorite things about cemeteries is that they hold hundreds/thousands of stories. Also, cemeteries like Forest Lawn are connected to local/national history in such a unique way; being able to teach history through the stories of both Buffalo’s notable and everyday citizens is very rewarding.

What is the biggest misconception about Cemetery Programs Manager?

Three Graces Mirror Lake

Three Graces Mirror Lake, Forest Lawn.

The biggest misconception is: Why would cemeteries need a program manager? I think people don’t realize how much history and cultural heritage can be found in a cemetery, which makes for great public programs, and helps generate revenue for the perpetual care of the physical cemetery (grounds, monuments) but also the memorial legacy of its permanent residents.

Run us through a typical day as a Cemetery Programs Manager. 


I’m not sure there is a typical day! On any given week, my tasks range from making arrangements for private tours and school groups, working with my volunteers/docents and/or giving tours myself, designing and planning public programs/tours, presenting for local community groups, assisting with historical research and/or helping people locate their loved ones in the cemetery, sharing our message/history through our digital platforms, and lots of other little things along the way.

What was one of the most challenging projects you worked on as a Cemetery Programs Manager?

Yearly Crime & Catastrophe Tour

Yearly Crime & Catastrophe Tour

Last year I developed a seasonal fall tour that connected with the vibe of “spooky season” while also remaining respectful to the cemetery’s sacred burial ground and those resting within the gates. Using our climate-controlled trolley, the Crime & Catastrophe Tour takes guests to several gravesites of people with dark or tragic backgrounds. This tour starts at dusk after the gates are closed to the public, and we visit each site by lantern light. The challenge was picking the right stories that wouldn’t be too dull or too graphic, navigating a cemetery at night with no major lighting, and maintaining reverence among the group (this part was done mainly with the observation of a moment of silence at each gravesite). The tours were a great success and we plan to offer several more in 2024!

What was one of the most memorable projects you worked on as a Cemetery Programs Manager?

IWAWL 2023

Musical Theatre at Forest Lawn

Forest Lawn presents an annual theatrical/musical production focused on the cemetery’s permanent residents and their holiday traditions called It WAS a Wonderful Life. Although I’ve attended a performance in the past and enjoyed it thoroughly, it was a completely different experience being part of the team. From the talented cast and crew to the impact the show has on the audience, this has been one of my favorite projects to work on! I even shed a tear at the end of the last performance this year; I was so proud of the team and so grateful to help share joy and the “reason for the season.”

How can someone interested in becoming a Cemetery Programs Manager start the process?

Get involved with your local cemetery! Many historic cemeteries offer tours and rely on volunteer assistance. This will give you an idea if the career field is right for you.

What type of education or training do you need to become a Cemetery Programs Manager?

I think this varies, but experience/schooling in areas such as history/anthropology, K-12 and/or adult education, special events, public speaking, and volunteer management,  would all be beneficial.

What advice would you give to someone starting out as a Cemetery Programs Manager?

Think outside the box; remember that cemeteries are unconventional classrooms and were intended for the living to remember and interact with those who have come before us. The important thing is to find the balance between making cemeteries fun while also maintaining reverence.


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