Every day, we do interments, either casket burials or putting cremations in the columbarium. Sometimes we do reopeners, where we put a casket or an urn on top of a casket that’s already in the ground. Usually, the reopener is for the wife.
With ground burials, we have to make sure we dig in the correct location. There have been some cemeteries on the Mainland where they got it wrong. We have a careful routine we go through to make sure we are 100-percent correct all the time.
We dig with a Caterpillar backhoe, and we excavate to a depth of seven feet. For re-openers, we excavate to five feet, unless it’s for an urn, then we just dig a little hole. Before digging we cut out the grass with a sod cutter, then roll up the sod and leave it at the foot of the grave.
We don’t leave the dirt at the gravesite during the service. We take it back to the shop in a trailer until afterward. To refill the grave we use a standard shovel.
Besides interments, we do the groundskeeping—trimming, mowing, pruning, sweeping, fertilizing. And the grave markers don’t stay clean by themselves.
People leave all kinds of things on the graves, like food, pictures, photos, balloons, golf balls, cell phones. We do a daily cleanup, because people leave lots of stuff that isn’t allowed, like glass bottles or those wire hangers that hold up flowers. We remove anything that could hurt us if it gets run over by a lawn mower and shoots out like a projectile.
When I first started working here, we used to clear the whole cemetery of flowers every Tuesday, no matter if they were dead or alive. That stopped, because people were saying, “Hey, I left flowers on Sunday, and on Tuesday they’re already gone!” Now we screen the flowers at the beginning of the week and only remove the unsightly ones. We just mow around them until they dry out.
I can mow the whole cemetery in two and a half days if we don’t have a busy funeral schedule. When there’s a funeral going on, we stop mowing in the area to pay respects. When you’re at a funeral, you don’t want somebody driving by in a lawn mower, making a lot of noise. But there’s always something else we need to get done. We keep ourselves busy. There’s never a dull moment around here.
—As told to David Thompson