What I’ve Learned About Graves

As I type the title to this latest blog post it shocks me to my core and I dissolve into tears. In a million years I never would have thought that I would be advising other grieving families on their child’s gravesite. It is something I had never stopped to imagine or consider and I know that most people don’t. It’s just not a normal thing to think about.

As I have walked this path of grief one of the things I’ve noticed is mother’s asking why a grave has flooded during the rainy season or why a headstone has completely disappeared. It is a real schock to the system to walk up to your child’s grave only to be unable to find it or to find that it has sunk so deeply into the ground it looks as though it may break open at any moment. It surprises me that cemeteries are not handling these situations, especially when considering how much many of these families have paid to have a specific plot. It is unacceptable for a grave to be flooded every time it rains and heartbroken mothers should never have to take to Facebook to find out what the solution is. This is something that every cemetery should be handling without us begging them to do so. I am so thankful that the caretakers at our cemetery have never allowed Maggie’s grave to sit in disarray.

There are many things I did not know before Maggie died but I researched them as soon as she died because I needed to know what would happen and why.

1. Graves sink -graves contain more air pockets then compacted soil so graves sink down into the earth as they settle over time. This is one of the reasons the large mound of dirt is left on top. That dirt needs to be there in order to fill the grave as it settles. If you flatten the grave you must be prepared to ask the cemetery to fill it as it settles. This usually begins to happen not long after the burial. Of course, this depends on soil conditions, time of year, etc. If they will not handle this then be prepared to fill it on your own.

You can see here how my daughter’s grave initially began to sink down. This happened more than once and some times were much worse than others. The initial sinking down ended up at around 8-9inches deep.

2. 6 month wait – it usually takes at least 6 months for a grave to fully settle. A grave may have to be filled several times during this time frame. Again, weather, soil type, etc play a role in this. It can take less time or it can take more time. It is very important to keep up with filling the grave during these early months. A good cemetery will do this for you.

The caretaker at the cemetery filled the grave upon request. Notice that because we did not install a headstone right away this made the process so much easier. We continued to fill the grave until it stopped sinking.

3. It is ok to wait to place the headstone– the headstone will also sink along with the grave. Because of this many people wait at least 6 months to place it. Some will wait for years. There is no rush on a headstone nor should you feel any pressure to get one if you are not ready. For us, the headstone is highly significant and a very important piece of honoring our daughter. For these reasons we have not yet decided on what we want permanently. If you do decide to install right away that is also ok! Just remember that it will sink as the grave settles. Headstones can also sink even after the grave is settled. They often weigh hundreds of pounds and cause the grave to sink further down as time goes on. Again, the cemetery ought to handle this right away and not allow a grave to stay in disarray.

ETA: A sunken headstone is not something you should handle yourself. It should be handled by either the cemetery or the company that installed it.

4. The one thing we can “control” – when something happens to our child’s grave it can be devastating. Whether it be flooded with water, sunk 12 inches into the ground, or just looking terrible this little piece of dirt is truly the last thing we have that allows us to continue to take care of our child. When this is stripped out of our hands the effects on the mind and body are simply too great to explain. Our lives are already so out of our control. We could not control the day and time our child left us. We cannot control the suffering of siblings. We cannot control the mind-numbing grief. We can control nothing about this new way of living. And yet, we feel some small amount of control when we stand at our child’s grave and tend to it. We are still mothers and we must have a physical outlet that allows us to continue to mother and care for this child.

5. A grave can be therapeutic – not everyone thinks this way and that is ok. Many people could not handle the thought of a small coffin and grave so opted for cremation instead. We never considered cremation because Maggie told me just a few days before she died that she would never want to be cremated. We had no idea she was dying at the time and yet we knew her final wishes. For our family, tending Maggie’s grave has been so good for us. I am glad that we chose a small, country, cemetery that has almost no rules. We are allowed to plant, water, decorate, and tend her grave as much as we please. Her headstone can be the size we wish it to be. It is my opinion that cemeteries ought to allow anyone to decorate graves as needed. Yes, I understand the extra work that is involved when it comes to cutting the grass and keeping graves tidy. Did you know that many mothers decorate their child’s grave only to come back in a week and find all of the decorations in a large trash heap? Most cemeteries have very strict rules and this is so damaging to the grieving person. One of our dreams is to open a Catholic cemetery that allows people to take care of their loved ones grave as needed. For sure it would not be an easy task to undertake but one that would be well worth it.

We had no idea when Maggie died that we needed to research what a cemetery would allow and what they would not allow. If you ever find yourself in the position of helping a grieving family be sure to add this to the to-do list and then make the call for them.

I truly hope that this little bit of information is helpful to the grieving family as they try to understand what is happening to their loved ones resting place. If you have anything to add to this list please feel free to leave a comment below!

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