Of all the services a cemetery offers a family, when it comes right down to it, we must bury the lost loved one in the space that they selected or that was selected for them. What else really matters?
A family comes to the cemetery before the appointed day of the service so that everyone attending remembers only the deceased person with love and reverence, not a possible mistake that the family and/or friends feels was of the cemetery’s doing.
How do we prevent mistakes and misunderstandings? Our first knowledge of the loss usually comes from the family funeral director and rarely from the family. Due to this usual chain of events, the funeral home representative either calls to tell the cemetery that the family is in their home or, if they have completed their arrangements at the funeral home, that the family will be arriving shortly at the cemetery. In either case we are frequently allotted some time so that we can be prepared for their arrival.
Why does the family need to come to the cemetery?
First, because it is the right thing to do. The family most often goes to the funeral home after their loved one has died, whether they had prearranged or not, to review their selections or to make selections and arrange for the services. The family at some time during this visit will also do a visual identification, later signing a paper for the funeral director acknowledging the identification. They do this not only in cases of cremation but for traditional burial, too. The funeral home wants assurances that their identifications are correct. For the same reasons, a visit to the cemetery is required. When a family meets the cemetery personnel, they are depending on the cemetery to assure them that everything will be as they arranged and to have explained what the cemetery’s plans are for them. Sometimes a family has never been to the cemetery and never seen the site they selected. Appearances of a landscape change over time, trees grow and slopes seem to get steeper with age. The family needs to know what to expect.
The cemetery needs to be sure that the correct person is being interred. Yes, if the deceased is one of the lot owners we know we have the correct site but: What if they owned more than one set of lots? What if there are more than one John and Mary Jones and we pulled the wrong card? What if there had been a divorce? There may be a reason why we might waive the visit but yet we know that that site will never look the same after the burial and that in the case of the second burial on a lot, a final respects that can be paid to the loved one lost is always appreciated. There are other cases in which a person authorizing a burial in a site may not have the authority to do so. We need to know that we have the correct person coming to the cemetery. This is something of which we always need to be watchful. There are many types of incorrect interments and they may be rare but it is a significant reason why someone needs to come out to sign.
An example that occurred on one of my watches many years ago was the Saturday a gentleman came to the office asking why we had opened his grave. After the obvious initial stammering, a quick records check showed that indeed there were two John A. and Mary B. Jones’s (in actuality the name was not a simple one) in the cemetery and we had pulled the wrong set of records by not checking the birth dates and not having a family come to the cemetery to authorize the opening of the site. The upside to the story is that the gentleman bringing the problem to us had a great sense of humor and the interment went off as it should have on Monday. If the family had come to the cemetery to sign the interment order, we would not have been in this embarrassing situation.
Over the years our records have been handled by many different individuals. During that time there is always the possibility that errors and discrepancies may have occurred. Families and relationships change and our records, especially addresses and contact information, are not kept up to date. Having a family come to the cemetery allows us to not only update lot owner information but next of kin and other important heirship information too.
Families may want to stay together. Many of our sections do not have available sites near their loved ones. If it is their first burial they may want to select some place else in the cemetery. Our mausoleum may not have been an option years ago. Also, cremation selections are available now that were not years ago. A family may not want to just have the cremains interred thereby using a space that they may intend for someone else in the family. Being able to have options explained and to see them is important in the process.
Building relationships between the cemetery and its personnel with the family is important too. Often the face of the burial process is the funeral director and not the cemetery staff. Having a family come to the cemetery allows us the opportunity to be part of their process and to explain the long term professional relationship the cemeterian plays in the grieving process. Besides our aftercare visits, we can explain our memorial services, sunrise services, the opportunity they have to put memorials on our website and many more ways we can serve them.
Often other family members will be in attendance at the service who will have graves nearby the deceased where there may be maintenance needs or special requests that we might be able to accomplish for the family that we would not know unless the family came to the cemetery and visited the site. One of the most common is the family member that is interred next to or so close to the deceased’s site that we might cover this grave with our greens for the set up. If we are aware of the relationship, we might be able to set the grave side equipment to the other side so as to not cover the nearby family graves.
And finally, in today’s legal environment, verification of all our records data is essential, especially if the deceased is not the lot owner. To not take the time before the service is to put our cemetery in jeopardy.
There are so many steps we can take to assure that everything goes correctly for a family’s final earthly goodbye. Why shouldn’t this visit to the cemetery be one of them?