Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Grave Thoughts

There was a very awkward moment at the cemetery yesterday, one which I've experienced once before with another bereaved family. Everybody listen up now:

Cemeteries: You simply MUST explain clearly to bereaved families that if they wish to be present when the casket is lowered, this has to be pre-arranged. I know this is not standard operating procedure and it is more work for you, but believe it or not, there are still people who want to accompany their loved ones to the very end of their earthly journey and do not want to be antiseptically whisked away after the pastor's final words. The family I was with yesterday really, really did not need to be informed by your representative that viewing the interment was not included in the "package" they selected.

Pastors: Double check on this with both the family and the rep from the cemetery before the graveside service begins. The family may tell you that they intend to be present when the casket is lowered, but that does not mean that they have cleared it with the cemetery. They may just assume that this is what always happens. (Because that's the way it is in the movies.) And you also need to explain to them that, while the movies include a grizzled old man standing by with ropes and a shovel, in contemporary life what will happen is that two young Mexican guys will drive in with a winch and a back-hoe and toss around the pieces of astro turf that were artfully concealing the fact that there is a real grave beneath that attractive platform.

Otherwise--much distress and anguish

12 comments:

Kathryn said...

Crikey! You mean it ISNT part of the standard procedure Stateside...who'd have guessed? Part of the service here is actually designed to be said as the coffin is lowered...I wonder how things developed so differently.
Sounds like a nightmare scenario, though. Hope not too many bruises for anyone?

Listing Straight said...

Very good points, all of them.

Anonymous said...

Wow. Good thing to know before I do my first funeral. I added it to my folder. You should change you theme from "Light and Airy" to "Light, Airy and Useful."

ppb said...

I had the same awkward moment with my own family. I knew we weren't going to see the casket lowered, because I'd officiated a dozen funerals before. But my family didn't. And they were really upset.

Songbird said...

It's a big problem here, too, minus the Mexican guys.

Anonymous said...

When doing casket funerals (which are getting very rare here) I always ask the family if they want to see the lowering--and then I discuss it with the funeral home. I also ask when doing an interment for cremains. I find that about 50%-75% with cremains (and often it is a family member who assists in the lowering) but very few with caskets.

3 years ago we buried my grandmother. She was cremated and after the interment service the minister and the memorial park fellow were stunned when my grandfather insisted on seeing the urn lowered. That strengthened my resolve to have the discussion.

Anonymous said...

Oh and here there is just a lowering. THe sealing of the grave doesn't start till family leaves (or they have to call in the township workers who are carefully waiting out of sight to see when people have left).

Anonymous said...

At one graveside service I officiated, the urn was lowered into the ground while the family was still sort of milling around. It made a tremendous "splash!" as it hit a puddle of water at the bottom of the hole.

Not good.

cheesehead said...

It's so funny--our Book of Common Worship gives the little litany "ashes to ashes, dust to dust "As the casket is being lowered", and at my first comittal service I fully expected this to happen. I stood there waiting with my little handful of dirt, and the cemetary guys were all smoking under a tree 30 feet away. I turned to the funeral director and asked him when the casket would be lowered, and he just shrugged.

By the time I did my second, I had taken the time to find out that it just isn't done here.

mary beth said...

Oh my gosh! How awful!

I remember when we said we wanted to be there for the lowering at my aunt's funeral...it was done as requested, but I think not everyone was prepared for that. It was hard.

Anonymous said...

No one sticks around to see it lowered here. We are firm believers in the antiseptic version. The Mexican guys fire up the backhoe long, long after the last car has cleared the cemetery gate and most of the family is back at the church munching on the fried chicken.

Time and chicken heal all wounds.

mis_nomer said...

At funerals here, we always watch the coffin being pushed into the flames. It is always traumatic.