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This makes sense to no one but the claim-conscious box tickers of local government

By Malachi O'Doherty

Published 13/08/2015

You'd better not let anyone in your family die if you have a bad back.

For, on top of the usual burdens that will befall you when bereaved, you may now have to help lower the coffin of your loved one into the ground.

This doesn't make sense to anyone but the claim-conscious box tickers of local government, who employ gravediggers but won't let them exert themselves.

You would think that a couple of men who could dig a big hole in the ground would find the final part of their job relatively easy.

Customarily they lower the coffin, resting on long straps, down into the earth. They then toss the straps in after it, given that these may have been contaminated by carcinogenic formaldehyde that is seeping through to the walls of the grave from its neighbour.

There are other concerns for the health of grave diggers than toxins. There is the old familiar bad back, famous as a cop-out for the wary worker who doesn't want to exert himself.

The decision that gravediggers in Limavady are to spare their poor muscles makes a lot of practical good sense, if your only concern is for the men themselves, and that may be your priority if you are their employer.

But surely the provision of burial services to the ratepayer goes a little further than opening a patch of ground for them. Surely there is the routine dignity of a funeral service to be preserved.

The alternative to gravediggers lowering coffins into the ground is either that the undertaker does it or that the family of the dead does.

The undertaker has a formal role that is distinguished by attire and demeanour. We don't want him to take his jacket off and roll his sleeves up.

Nor do we want the bereaved themselves to have any responsibility at the interment of their loved ones, other than to be present and to receive the sympathy of friends and family.

But the gravedigger shouldn't do it, in case he hurts himself. By that logic, no one would do any physical work.

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