And the Moral of the Story Is… PLAN AHEAD!

by Ed R.

My wife’s sister died young of a rare disease back in I think it was 1994. She was 42. The family was do-it-your-selfers. My brother-in-law decided to build the casket. They also decided to set up a private cemetery on the camp property in Maine. At the time, the state was pushing forward with a project to build a by-pass road that would have taken some of the property by eminent domain. It was thought that a private cemetery might obstruct the project. My brother-in-law hired a surveyor, and filed the paperwork for the private cemetery.

My sister-in-law was waked in Arlington, MA. The evening of the visitation, my brother-in-law was still completing the casket at the funeral home. We were informed that we would have to have a funeral director transport the body across state lines. After an early reception brunch, the immediate family drove up to the camp, which is outside of Augusta, ME. We got there a few minutes after the hearse. This is rural Maine. The forest. We got a couple of sawhorses, and set the casket on them in the driveway. The funeral director sensibly took off.

My brother-in-law had contracted with an excavator to dig the hole. It was obvious that he had little experience digging graves. The hole was immense. About eight feet deep, ten feet wide, and twelve feet long. He had piled up the dirt on one side of the hole so close that you couldn’t walk on that side. This is alongside a lake. The water table was such that there was about a foot of water on the bottom. Also, the rest of the family was on its way for the burial and graveside service, some of them kind of elderly and infirm. There was no easy path from the driveway down to the grave site. The backhoe had torn up the ground. The rest of the site was overgrown with brush.

We rolled a few big pine logs into the hole so the casket would not land in the water. Then we started hacking away at the brush. We used scythes. I kid you not. Used shovels and hoes to establish an easier path.

The rest of the family arrived. Time to bury. She was a hefty woman. With the casket, easily 300 pounds. We had eight pallbearers. Problem was you could only walk on one side of the grave. So we set up a bunch of 2 x 8″ planks, and one side of the pallbearers had to walk the planks. I was lead on that side. The planks were kind of springy. I thought, “Here’s an accident waiting to happen.” But we all made it across.

Next: Unlike at a regular cemetery, where they have a lowering device consisting of winches with straps to lower the casket into the ground., my brother-in-law set up an elaborate system of ropes. Unfortunately, it got hung up at one point, and the casket started to tilt over. We were able to cut the rope, but the casket kind of clunked down. At least it landed level.

Next we had to fill in the hole. There were six of us using hand shovels. It took over two hours. Evening was upon us and the mosquitoes came out. We set the larger stones aside, and piled them on top at the end. We didn’t have a compactor. So I went on top and stomped around a bit. I danced on the grave of my sister-in-law. By this point I was pretty much three sheets to the wind. I had liked her. She was my favorite in-law.

We had a late spaghetti dinner with the remaining few. It had been quite the exhausting day. It was a Sunday, and the missus and I had to be back in Massachusetts for Monday. We got home around 1:00 am and crashed into bed. At 8:00 am we got a call from the statehouse in Maine. The woman said the paperwork on the private cemetery hadn’t been completed. I said, “We buried her.” She said, “You’ll have to dig her up.” I said, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” She said, “Either that or complete the paperwork.” Lucky for me, my brother-in-law was still in Maine, and was able to go down to the statehouse and deal with it.

[Massachusetts rules regarding home burial require prior approval from the local board of health. Read more here – scroll down to “Home burials.”]

And the Moral of the Story Is… PLAN AHEAD!
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