Posted by: irishdad | August 19, 2009

Thoughts on gravediggers

Have you given much thought to gravediggers?

I know I haven’t (why would I?). Before Littlegirl died I thought of them as the guys loitering in the distance at a funeral, waiting for the crowd to disperse before going about their business. They were anonymous figures, perhaps thought of as a disrespectful bunch as they chatted quietly and waited in the wings.

When we went to bury Littlegirl, a man, still utterly faceless, took her little white coffin from me and squelched down into the mucky grave to place it on the ground.

I hadn’t given this man in particular, or gravediggers in general, any further thought until a couple of days ago when my wife and I were discussing our mutual (but separately visted) bereavement support person.

She told me how he had been telling her that as part of his training he had spent some time with gravediggers.

He went on to relate how contrary to what we might think, gravediggers can take the job very personally, particularly when they know the grave they are preparing is for a child or someone who has suffered a tragic death. They can deal with adults and older people, but the kids get them every time. As a result problems of depression and addiction can apparently be common among their ranks.

He told of how awkward gravediggers feel as they play their role in children’s burials and how they never know when to take the coffin from a grieving parent.

We met a gravedigger on Monday, and found him to be a very kind man who patted us both on the arm and said “God Bless” as we were leaving after placing our daughters organs to rest – he also took great care to water the flowers he had replaced on her grave. It was a difficult day for us, but knowing that this man was looking after things made it a little easier for us to bear.

I appreciate his efforts, and the difficulty his job must present sometimes when he has to meet people during the worst moments of their lives. I wish I’d asked him if it was he who had originally prepared Littlegirl’s grave. If I see him again I will.

That’s all. I have no point to make, just a reflection that I’ve never even considered what type of job it must be to dig graves for a living.  See? This is the kind of stuff you think of when a child dies. Subjects you just don’t encounter when life is ‘normal.’

Here’s an article from the NYT. Some parts of it make for clinical reading.



  1. Actually, my older brother worked as a gravedigger/groundskeeper for several years back when I was in high school and he told me the same thing. He would always come home from work sad on the days when he had to assist in the burial of a child.

    I had sort of forgotten about it until you mentioned it…

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