Some of you may recall that my grandmother passed away this past January. Because she died in the winter, her casket was stored in a crypt to await burial in the spring. The interment took place last Monday.
More or less.
My grandmother's grave is next to my grandfather's, naturally. In fact, her name and date of birth were carved into the stone in 1993, when my grandfather died. I realize this is standard practice, but it still seems a little creepy to me to have your gravestone, four numbers shy of completion, sitting there, waiting for you for 15 years. But I digress.
When my grandfather died, it was summertime, and the funeral included the interment. The family gathered at the graveside, and watched as the casket was lowered into the ground. So although there was a four-and-a-half-month interval this time, we were expecting the interment to be pretty much the same thing - casket gets lowered into the ground. In-terre.
So my sister and I arrive at the cemetery - much earlier than anyone else, despite my dad's conviction that we would be late - and settle in to wait for my parents and aunt and uncle, not to mention the guest of honour. I decide that I'll visit the site, just to have a quiet moment alone with my grandfather before the ceremony. Now, the last time I was at the grave, I have to admit, was 1993. I was confident I would find it, though, since I clearly remembered standing in front of the grave, looking out onto the lake, with a tree swaying in the gentle breeze.
Of course, I conveniently forgot that the entire cemetery is basically lakeviews with gently swaying trees. (It's very lovely, really.)
Thankfully, at the far end of the cemetery, there are two men, one of whom is clearly the operator of a small earthmover, which is parked nearby. I walk over and tell them I am there for my grandmother's burial, and could they help my find her grave. The earthmover guy physically turns me and points to a green box a few rows over, and says "that's her over there."
See? I knew I could find it.
So I get to the grave, with the new numbers freshly carved into the stone, and find a small open box, plywood covered with astroturf, positioned directly over my grandmother's final resting place. What I do not find is a big hole. Nor is there a mound of earth.
I consider whether it's possible that the green box is like a tiger trap...
As I am walking back to my sister's car to continue waiting for the rest of the family, the earthmover guy drives past, then stops, dismounts, and retrieves an old bouquet from another grave. As he walks past me, he winks and says "I need a monkey."
Unfamiliar with etiquette in this situation, I am speechless. Then he explains that if he had a monkey, he could train it to retrieve the old flowers. Classy.
Ok, so everyone else arrives, including the pallbearers, the casket, the minister and the funeral director. We all make our way over to the grave, where there is still no big, traditional, you've-seen-it-in-all-the-movies hole. I can see my dad going through the same mental process - isn't there supposed to be a hole? In-terre?
Anyway, the pallbearers bring the casket from the hearse and place it on the green box, which, as it turns out, is not a tiger trap, but rather a platform. The minister does his usual schtick, then the funeral director pulls a flask from his breast pocket. This was not as promising as it sounds - the flask is filled with sand, which he pours on the casket to symbolize the whole dust-to-dust thing. Amens are said, the minister shakes everyone's hand...
...and we're apparently done.
Except no one's in the terre.
So my dad beckons the funeral director over and asks the obvious question - isn't there supposed to be a hole and a lowering into said hole, etc., etc.?
Which is when we all learn two new terms: the funeral director explains that this is what they [presumably "in the business"] call a "dry set." Apparently this is a growing trend; because the ground is frequently unstable, there is a risk of the sides of the grave collapsing [there's a lovely image] and posing a risk to the pallbearers [again, lovely image - pallbearers, arms pinwheeling, sliding in with the casket]. Instead, more and more cemeteries have a graveside "dry set" interment, and after the family and funeral party leaves, the "cemeterians will take care of her." Cemetarian, presumably, is a fancy word for monkey-lovin' earthmover guy.
So, as my dad observed, we walked away, leaving her in the casket, still on the green box, in the bright sunshine. Not in the terre.
Fortunately, my sister returned later that afternoon, and confirmed that my grandmother had clearly been interred, for real.
All of which is to say, perhaps cremation is a better option?