Of Grave Concern: Discovering truth and enlightenment about life while caring for the dead 6 feet under

Photo by homeworks255/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

FEATURE — A few years ago, I found myself standing six feet under in an occupied grave. Yes, you read that right, occupied.

How I got there will be forthcoming. What I learned there was another matter.

Let’s just say for the moment, being alive and down inside a grave has a way of sobering a person to the realities of life … and death. It was also a gentle reminder, as a mortician, of the promises we make to serve the living with utmost professionalism, respect and care for the dead.

As I stood over my head in that grave, I felt perhaps I was going above and beyond my duty, but then I thought to myself, “This is what one does as a mortician.” We provide a service that most would never, ever consider. It is a needed service and with that brings moments never to be forgotten.

This was one of those “moments” as I stared down at the concrete liner that contained a human being who had been born, lived a life and had died. It was surreal, raw and a bit uncomfortable, I must admit.

In the cemetery all around me were generations from the past, each with their own life stories and each having contributed in their own way in life, now gone to the other side to rest from their mortal journeys and labors.

In the natural order of things, living on this earth and then dying is a rite of passage. We don’t get to decide how or when we will “graduate” from this life. We do get to decide what we will contribute or not. No matter our circumstances, we will all make a difference, good or bad, with our allotment of time on the clock of mortality. We are free to choose.

So there I was, gently lowering myself into that freshly opened grave, with only myself and the local gravedigger present. A family had held a funeral and graveside service 25 years before for their father, and now they had decided to have his remains disinterred, cremated and shipped back to where they now lived on the East Coast. This was not a common request over the years.

The gravedigger had opened the grave, and now it was my turn, dressed in a surgical gown, mask and gloves to open the casket and remove the remains for cremation. As soon as the top of the grave liner was taken off, the wood casket collapsed revealing the skeletal remains, still dressed in the suit he was buried in. I carefully removed the planks of wood and handed them up to the gravedigger who stood above me.

Then came the time for me to remove the skeletal remains. What a sobering experience.

There were personal items, such as a Bible, a military pin and wedding ring all intact within the casket. Each item told me a little bit more about the story of this man’s life, his accomplishments, his personal life and his dedication to our country. I suddenly felt I was in a sacred space as I handled my duties.

The remains and personal belongings were all lifted out of the grave and placed into a cardboard cremation container waiting above ground. The grave was filled again. I called the family to let them know everything had proceeded as planned and then took the container to the crematory.

This gentleman was on an unexpected journey, I’m sure. I was determined to see it through for the well-being of his family. They had a desire to have their father closer to them. That told me a lot about this family.

They would re-inter his ashes in a new grave with his wife who had now passed away. Another chapter had closed, lives were touched and would never be the same. Thus, is our journey here.

Each day, many “chapters” close all around us. We attend funerals and memorial services and hear the stories that filled a life and touched lives. How will you fill the chapters that make up your life?

William Shakespeare wrote, “One of the finest comforts life offers us is that you cannot sincerely help others without helping yourself.”

Six feet under, I discovered truth and enlightenment.

It’s a new day and chapter in your life. What will you do with it?

Written by DAVID JOHN COOK, public relations and funeral director for Spilsbury Mortuary.

• S P O N S O R E D   C O N T E N T  •

Resources

  • Spilsbury Mortuary | Address: 110 S. Bluff St., St. George |  Telephone: 435-673-2454 | Website.
    • Hurricane location | Address: 25 N. 2000 West, Hurricane | Telephone: 435-635-2212.

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