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What Does a Cemetery Caretaker Do?

A cemetery caretaker may be responsible for raking leaves.
One job of a cemetery caretaker is to dig and prepare burial sites.
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  • Written By: D. Jeffress
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 22 August 2014
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A cemetery caretaker performs a number of grounds maintenance and burial preparation tasks at a public or private cemetery. He or she uses lawnmowers, hedge trimmers, clippers, and other gardening tools on a daily basis. When a grave needs to be dug, the cemetery caretaker is generally responsible for identifying the best location and excavating the ground to the appropriate size and depth. The caretaker may also control the equipment used to carefully place caskets into their graves. Most cemetery caretakers are city employees, though some work for privately-owned parks or funeral homes.

As with most groundskeeper jobs, the daily duties of a cemetery caretaker depend largely on the weather. In warm seasons, he or she mows and waters grass, trims trees, and tends to flowers. A caretaker often spends winter months raking leaves, removing debris, leveling ground, and planting new seeds. In addition to gardening, the caretaker opens gates during daytime hours and makes sure the grounds are locked and secure at night.

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Cemetery caretakers are often also responsible for digging and preparing burial sites when they are given notice from funeral homes. Depending on the softness and composition of the soil, the caretaker may be able to excavate a grave entirely by hand with the aid of shovels, picks, and wheelbarrows. The worker may also operate a tractor and a backhoe to quickly remove large amounts dirt and rock. He or she normally affixes grave markers and tombstones into place and ropes off open graves to prevent accidents. A caretaker generally needs to be in good physical condition and have excellent vision to accomplish such tasks in an efficient manner.

Most caskets are lowered into graves with the aid of hydraulic or pneumatic lifts that are operated by the cemetery caretaker. Since the job is performed in public and often around grieving friends and family, the caretaker is usually expected to be well-groomed, quiet, and respectful. After caskets are put into place, the caretaker disassembles and puts away the lowering equipment. He or she fills in the plot, levels the ground, and lays down sod.

A person who wants to become a cemetery caretaker usually needs to obtain a high school diploma and participate in several months of supervised, on-the-job training to master skills. A new worker learns how to operate lawnmowers, tractors, hydraulic lifts, and other specialized equipment from experienced groundskeepers. With experience, the worker is often given more responsibilities and eventually allowed to work unsupervised.

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Discuss this Article

popcorn
Post 9

If you find that it is necessary to prepare for your own funeral in advance, whether do to difficult news, or just from the need to be prepared, meeting and talking with a cemetery caretaker can be a really good idea. While there are people at funeral homes that specifically deal with casket sales and the internal workings of a funeral home, you can also speak to those who care for the actual graves.

I have always found cemeteries to be peaceful places that are beautiful when well cared for. I enjoy looking at the monuments to people’s lives. Learning about how a cemetery caretaker will look after your plot is rather fascinating.

wander
Post 8

@dimpley - I have often asked myself the same question when I have had to attend funerals. It has always surprised me the people that choose to be around death, day in and day out. I think it takes a very strong person to be able to deal with the less than happy aspect of our lives.

The caretakers I have met a funeral homes have always been very professional and sensitive to the needs of families. I have found that while funerals are a sad time that is great to have someone there who is a grounding force. For the cemetery caretakers they seem to have a great respect for each person's passing, all while making it seem part of the everyday.

wavy58
Post 7

I noticed while visiting different cemeteries as a child to put flowers on the graves of various relatives that artificial flower bouquets were scattered about in almost all of the cemeteries. I always felt compelled to pick them up and secure them in the concrete vases on the headstones or stick them in the ground.

When it came time for me to decide upon a career, I knew that I wanted something that offered me lots of silence and solitude. I also knew that I wanted to take care of something in some way, but not children or pets. Another visit to the cemetery made me call to mind how I always needed to straighten the bouquets in my youth, and I decided to become a cemetery caretaker for real.

Working in a cemetery provides me with lots of time to reflect on life, and I have often had the privilege of comforting grieving individuals. Being a cemetery caretaker allows me to care for both the dead and the living.

seag47
Post 6

I befriended a cemetery caretaker after frequent visits to my boyfriend's grave. We started talking about his job, and he told me that he prefers working there instead of with the public.

The caretaker was quite shy and has burn scars on his face. These scars garnered puzzled or scared looks from strangers when he worked in a grocery store, so he decided to find an occupation that required only limited contact with the living.

He said that taking care of the graves and the surrounding land is quite comforting, and it has prepared him for his own departure someday. He said it will be nice for someone to take care of his grave for a change.

LisaLou
Post 5

Where I live, a cemetery caretaker's job is especially busy in the summer months. It is quite a job making sure every grave site is mowed and trimmed around.

Many people bring flowers to the cemetery around Memorial Day, and it is also the caretakers job to remove these at the end of the season before winter comes.

David09
Post 4

@Charred - You raise a good point. It is, after all, a business, like any other business. Everything from the caskets to the tombstones costs money. For that matter, there are even cemetery brokers who buy and sell plots of land used for cemeteries. It’s like being a real estate broker, except with an exclusive focus on the funeral industry.

Charred
Post 3

@dimpley - There is a well-known funeral home in our area that is constantly advertising in the radio. They point out that many people don’t prepare for the unpleasant prospects of death, and that makes funeral arrangements a little more difficult and stressful when a loved one dies.

With that in mind, I think it would take a certain kind of person who could work as a caretaker or in other funeral jobs at a memorial home. This person would need to have the empathy and sensitivity to help people through their grieving process.

At the same time, this person would need some business skills as well, so that they can talk facts and figures with people about their funeral arrangements, whether they’ve prepared in advance or not.

It’s a delicate balancing act. I don’t have this kind of temperament myself, but I respect people who do.

Eviemae
Post 2

Many caretakers today use industrialized machines to help them with the digging process, and I guess I never thought twice about that. However, I was working with a playwright some years ago who caused me to take a second glance at what we take for granted.

She had written a musical based on the life of the Appalachian people and their history. Apparently, the caretaker’s there in times past had a sight more difficult job than they do now.

The ground got so hard in the winter (because of the cold) that the bodies of the dead had to be stored until spring. Once a particular kind of tree began to bloom, the caretaker dug all of the graves for the people who had died in the winter. That tree would never bloom until the ground was thawed enough to take a shovel.

dimpley
Post 1

A cemetery caretaker’s job is certainly not an easy task, and I always thought that it would be a very depressing one. Who would want to spend their life preparing people for death?

However, once I had the pleasure to meet a caretaker who was very conscientious about his job, I realized that this was not necessarily the case. He was very proud of what he did, and believed in it whole heartedly.

He said that he liked what he did because it was honest work, but also because he knew that the people that he took care of were handled with respect and dignity. He took his job seriously because he knew that these were real people who had real loved ones.

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