Life is an adventure that everyone should live to the fullest. And then it’s over. When people die, it is sad, but it can also be a celebration of their life. It is an opportunity to remember the great things that the person accomplished and to send them off to meet their maker with a proper funeral and burial. There is one profession that every burial needs…the gravedigger.
Gravediggers, also known as cemetery workers or burial ground custodians, dig graves in cemeteries for burials. It sounds creepy, but it’s a job that must be done whenever someone dies and chooses to be buried. There is plenty of demand for this gig because people die everyday. Every cemetery employs at least one gravedigger.
Digging a grave is not a dark and sinister job, but rather an act of respect for the dead. Usually gravediggers don’t know anything about the deceased and they have little or no personal contact with the family. That makes the job easier. To be a gravedigger, you must be comfortable with death and with what you are doing for a living. As long as you are a positive person that celebrates life, you won’t have any problems.
Gravediggers work in quiet, landscaped cemeteries. Their main job is digging the graves where coffins will be placed. They no longer dig graves with shovels and axes. Now, most use excavation equipment. Digging by hand can take 8 hours, while using a backhoe takes about 30 minutes. The soil determines how much time it takes, how easy the process is, and how deep the grave must be. Most people think that all graves are 6 feet deep, but modern caskets allow graves to be a bit less. Technology has made this career much more efficient and safer because there is no longer a fear of collapsing graves.
Every plot in the cemetery is planned to maximize the amount of gravesites available. Sometimes graves are only five inches away from the neighboring grave, which means a gravedigger must be a very accurate digger so he won’t disturb the dead. Digging big holes is challenging and gravediggers must watch out for rocks, roots, wet soil, and frozen ground. In some colder climates, burials may be delayed until the spring thaw unless the gravedigger has access to a frost burner that makes it easier to dig through frozen soil.
Gravediggers are given coffin sizes and funeral times the day before a burial. Digging must be completed at least an hour before the ceremony. The dirt is loaded into a truck and removed from the scene. After mourners leave, the gravedigger returns with the truck, fills in the hole, and prepares it as a lawn site or monument site.
Gravedigging is more than digging holes and filling them back in. When not digging graves, some gravediggers stay busy laying sod, mowing grass, setting grave markers, blowing leaves, pruning plants, and doing other jobs that keep the cemetery looking pristine.
Look for jobs at local cemeteries and join the local cemetery association. Also try the US Department of Veteran Affairs. This department manages the military cemetery system. Usually a gravedigger can make $20,000 to $55,000 per year for working outside and laying the dead to rest. It may come as a surprise, but Abe Lincoln, Rod Stewart, and several other notable musicians can put gravedigger on their resumes.
Digging graves may not be a glamorous career, but it does offer job security. Gravediggers are in constant demand everywhere. If you are comfortable with death and enjoy being outside in a beautiful landscape, then look into gravedigging. But remember, gravediggers literally work the graveyard shift every single day.
Quick Facts About Gravedigger Work
Job Title: Gravedigger, Cemetery Worker, Burial Grounds Custodian
Description: Dig graves for burials and maintain cemetery grounds
Certifications/Education: No Formal Education Required
Necessary Skills: Sensitive and comfortable with death, Physically fit
Potential Employers: Cemeteries, Local governments, Funeral homes
Pay: $20,000 to $55,000, $40,000 on average