Winter at the Cemetery
As you may know I have lived my entire life in Minnesota. . . and this past weekend winter arrived. We had a little brush with snow and then our first Zero degree day was Saturday. It made me think of my working years with committal services out at the cemetery following a church service and before a reception.
My friends who live south of the Mason Dixon line and subscribe to this blog probably don’t have those “wonderful” experiences. Oddly enough, I’ve always been able to tolerate the cold and I didn’t usually mind those short committal services in temperatures under zero degrees Fahrenheit. Part of the reason I didn’t mind them is they went rather quickly!!
During church sermons that seemed to go too long my father used to tell other staff and even the workers in a church kitchen, “There’s plenty of places where that pastor could have stopped”. It was his way of pointing out that the point that the preacher was trying to get across was probably being lost by those in the pew getting restless.
However, out at the cemetery on a cold winter’s day there were not many long-winded committal services and that was just fine by me. Those services went by quickly and the family, clergy, and other cemetery visitors then went on to the reception to join the funeral attendees, those that did not venture to the cemetery for the committal service but went directly to a nice, warm reception room. I never had trouble on cold winter days moving the family out of the cemetery so the people from Wilbert Vault and the cemetery personnel could complete their jobs.
It wasn’t that way in the Summer. Most of you know what I mean. . . .in the beautiful weather of a Minnesota summer mourners would wander the cemetery following the committal service to find distant relative’s graves with no real sense that there would be funeral attendees back at the reception that wanted to visit with them and were waiting. In a nice cordial way, as the funeral director I was responsible for eventually herding the family members back to their cars to get them on their way to the reception. To do that in a kind and gentle fashion always seemed like it took a long time.
Cemeteries in the northern tundra can look bleak in the winter. . . but they can also look beautiful with snow on the trees. I took a drive on Saturday, the day I’m writing this article, on my way back from breakfast at the diner to take a look. That drive reminded me of the difficulty of burial in Minnesota winters. First of all, there’s the issue of making sure, that with snow on the ground and being unable to locate ground stakes, that the grave is dug in the exact spot with the exact angle. I took a picture that I’ve attached to this article. If you look real close you will see that this cemetery is ready for winter. Do you see the orange 4-foot stakes along the ground. They criss-cross the cemetery in proper rows, lanes, and alleys to help with location once snow gets fairly deep.
Then there is the problem of the backhoe and the vault trucks not being able to see monuments that may eventually be covered by snow. The same can be said of the cemetery personnel that have to snow-blow a path from the road for the mourners to get to the grave for the committal service. Finally, the simple fact that the ground is frozen, like concrete, creates an issue in the actual digging of the grave.
In any regard, it’s an interesting process and one in which many families don’t understand the efforts put forth by the cemetery and burial vault people. During my time as a funeral director I was always grateful for the people that did this work. . . . those from the cemetery, private excavating companies who may dig the actual grave, and the vault company representatives that made sure the vault was installed and the lowering device in place. Those people are almost never seen by the families we are serving, but they are some of the real heroes of cold-weather burial and really appreciated by this funeral director. If you’re not from a cold weather climate. . . you wouldn’t understand the difficulty in getting that done in a time when the temperature is at zero degrees or lower.
Oh. . .one good thing about snow on the ground and cold temperatures — it makes the coming Christmas and Holiday Season seem just around the corner!!
Related — One of the Top Ten most read stories from the history of Funeral Director Daily was this article I published in January 2020 that is entitled “Cold Weather and the Burial Business“. Evidently, some people think it is a good read. If you are so inclined, take a look at it as it relates to how in the early years of my funeral director life, before pneumatic drills became prevalent, many winter deaths in the tundra of Minnesota resulted in what we termed “Spring Burials”. The article explains that process.
More news from the world of Death Care:
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- Northlandia: Duluth’s cemetery labyrinth evokes questions. Duluth News-Tribune (MN)
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