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What really goes on when you work in a crematorium

Greg Bray, columnist for the Gladstone Observer. Photo Brenda Strong/The Observer
Greg Bray, columnist for the Gladstone Observer. Photo Brenda Strong/The Observer Brenda Strong GLA170212GREG

FOLKS, not so long ago I worked in a crematorium and heard the question, "Are you scared of dying?" at least once a week, along with every cemetery joke in existence. Yes, including that one you're thinking of right now.

Anyway, apart from the sensitive nature of the work it wasn't a bad sort of job. The park was quite pretty, I quite liked mowing and gardening, and really enjoyed the peace and quiet.

On the downside, I've never cried so much in my adult life and telling people what I did for a living quickly got my name struck off most social lists. Still, working as a gravedigger taught me a lot about death, and life.

One Easter, on my first week on the job, I was helping a family bury the ashes of their much-loved Nan when someone asked if I believed in the resurrection. I shook my head. Cemetery workers do not like thinking about the dead coming back to life, or anything else that could damage our painstakingly maintained lawns.

Then a little girl asked The Question: "Are you scared of dying?"

You could have heard a pin drop as her family waited for my answer. Eventually I replied, "No, not really." And to my surprise, I actually meant it. She frowned, "I am."

Then an old woman behind her cried, "Me too! Terrified actually!" For some reason, this got a big laugh from the assembled relatives.

Brushing the dirt from my hands, I recalled a Mark Twain quote. "Well, you were dead a long time before you were born, and that wasn't so bad, was it?" She nodded her head. "So," I continued, "there's really nothing to be worried about after you die, is there?"

The little girl wasn't convinced, but the old lady visibly relaxed. "Thank you," she whispered.

Now, I might not believe in resurrection, and have grave doubts about what happens after you shuffle off this mortal coil, but I do know there are some things worse than dying, and living a long, fear-filled life is one of them.

Topics:  work


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