A photo of the graves at St. Martin’s Cemetery in Martinsville.
A photo of the graves at St. Martin’s Cemetery in Martinsville.

The Life of a Cemetery Worker

October 22, 2020

It’s 8 a.m. I roll out of bed and do what most teenagers do when they first wake up, I check my phone. There’s the regular notifications that I wake up to, YouTube alerting me of new videos, friends sending streaks on snapchat, and Spotify reminding me that I should really pay for premium. But among the rabble of notifications, one sticks out. A message from my boss. They are short staffed at the shop, and they need me to come in as soon as I can. This is the life of a cemetery worker. 

Yet, how did I come by this job? It certainly isn’t something an average teenager would have. My dad had connections with some of the people who maintained one of the cemeteries in Martinsville. One night, they texted my dad, and asked if I wanted to weed eat for them at the cemetery that next day. My dad didn’t give me an option, the answer was yes.

My first day consisted of weed eating the stones in the cemetery from 9 till noon. I had never operated a weed eater before, and definitely hadn’t had a job before. I kept my head down, kept quiet, and did my job. As the days wore on though, and I began to understand the work environment more, I began to be more friendly with my fellow employees. I worked every day I could, and I worked hard. My boss took notice.

Soon, I found myself taking on more roles. Some of the other employees had started school sports, and some had quit to begin their careers. That left a sizable gap, a gap that I filled. It started with me doing some weed eating around our shop, then I began making stone slabs to put underneath gravestones, then fixing damaged gravestones. Finally, they asked me to help with a burial.

I to this day, still remember driving to the cemetery, and sitting just a few yards away from the funeral. The family was mourning and here we sat in the cab, listening to music, waiting for them to clear out so we could start. It was just part of the job. Once they left, we started working. My coworker hopped in the bobcat that we had hooked to the truck, and he began moving the large pile of dirt next to the open grave into the hole. I couldn’t help but feel some sort of uneasiness being that close to a body. Then it dawned on me that we would most likely be the last two people to ever service that person, and that made me feel even worse. I felt off for the rest of the day.

Like everything, however, you grow used to it. The next funeral we had, I didn’t feel as existential. And after that, I had grown completely used to it, and the burial simply became another job that we had to do on our agenda for the day. As sad as it may be, burials didn’t bother me anymore. 

At first, I didn’t like people knowing that I worked in a cemetery for a living, but when people found out, they showed more interest than disgust. I would be bombarded with questions about what I did, how I acquired the job, and if I enjoyed it. One person even gave me the nickname “The Bone Burglar”(I can get rid of this if it is not appropriate, editor) to my amusement. I actually began to enjoy the job. So many other kids my age spent long hours toiling over a grill, or stocking groceries at a grocery store. I had a unique job that had lots of diversity in what I did, and always kept me on my toes. The work environment was welcoming, and 

Working at a cemetery is not an easy job, and it certainly is not normal. Yet, it’s unique, and I appreciate the time I spend working there. I know few people have had that experience, and I am glad that I am one of the few that have. Even on slow days there are always things to do, and more things to learn. One thing is for certain, it’s never a dull day.

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