by Lisa Tome
Richard Meekins can't wait for the weather to clear to start work.
Although most excavators can postpone a job when the ground is saturated, grave digging can't wait.
For nearly a dozen years, Meekins, of North East, has dug graves in 30 cemeteries in Cecil and Harford counties. The wet weather has made his job more difficult.
"The (wet) usually comes in the fall. It's been a while since it's been this bad," said Meekins.
The soaking rains mean more work for Meekins. After he digs a grave, the work isn't over.
Because of the torrential downpours, he may have to pump it back out before a casket can be lowered. The graves are more likely to cave in after they're dug.
"In any weather, it's hard. But if it's 100 degrees, I work. If it downpours or there is heavy snow, I work. It's not a job where I can call in sick. I've dug graves in a foot of snow," he said.
The graves aren't the only issue. He also has to clear the roads at cemeteries and paths so mourners can make their way to the burial. He said that people attend burials whenever someone dies. There is no staying home. "If it's raining, they may not stay as long," he said. "It's their last goodbye, They are showing their last respects. They will do it no matter what the weather."
He meets with families and sells graves, working to meet the needs of individual families and honoring last requests.
"Every situation is different," he said. Last month, when 10-year-old Kami Ring was murdered, Meekins donated his time to dig her grave. "It was very hot that day. But I was glad to do it. When there is a child that dies, it is a very emotional time," he said.
Meekins digs a couple hundred graves each year. He said he tries hard to make sure they look nice. The rain doesn't help with appearances. The wet earth also poses problems. He has to fill the grave in after the service. The mud makes the dirt sink and the grave has to be leveled a second time.
There are myths in grave digging. He digs the grave with a backhoe and fills it in by hand. The dirt is placed by the grave and covered with a tarp during the service.
"Six feet under is a myth," said Meekins.
He said a typical grave is four feet wide, five and a half feet deep. "I don't know of many that are dug six feet deep," he said. But now double stack graves are more common. Those graves are dug seven and a half to eight feet. "That can be dangerous if they fill up with water," Meekins said. Urn and crematorium graves are hand dug.
He said that many of the cemeteries where he works, are very old. They weren't made for equipment because when they were constructed, graves were dug by hand.