How Do Cemetery Burials Happen During the Winter?

Updated

We don’t get to choose when or where we die. Historically, if someone died in the winter, it presented a challenge in colder climates. With the hardened, icy ground, it wasn’t possible to bury the dead. However, technology has come a long way, and now families have more options than ever to bury loved ones regardless of the time of year. 

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Among the questions to ask when buying a cemetery plot, it’s important to ask about burial practices in the winter. This guide will explore burial customs and techniques with a modern-day approach to an age-old problem. 

Can People Get Buried During the Winter in Cold Climates?

If you’re wondering whether people can get buried during the winter months, the answer is yes! However, it wasn’t always this way. In the past, before modern technology, graves were dug with a shovel. This took a lot of time and energy and was impossible to do when the ground froze

The only option was to wait until spring. Deceased loved ones were placed in what’s known as receiving vaults. These were built at cemeteries to hold bodies until they could be buried in the ground. 

Today, it’s uncommon to wait to bury family members until the weather warms up. Modern technology and alternative burial practices make it possible to bury the deceased at any time of year. However, some public and private cemeteries may temporarily delay burials due to bad weather like snow or prolonged rain. 

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How Does Burial in the Winter Months Typically Work?

Burials in the winter months are a modern practice in cold climates. All funeral homes and mortuaries today have new, modern equipment that makes it possible to refrigerate the dead as long as needed. That being said, it’s rare for a body to be held in a mortuary for over 2 weeks. For families who would prefer to wait until the spring, the body is typically moved to a mausoleum temporarily.

Sometimes more complex burials are factored into the cost of a burial plot. There are a few different modern methods cemeteries use to bury the deceased in cold weather.

  • Jackhammer: The most common tool is to use a jackhammer to break through the upper layers of frost. This takes longer than digging a traditional grave, but it’s effective and affordable. 
  • Heater: Heaters are also used to melt the frozen cemetery ground. These can be electric heaters or as low-tech as using lit charcoal bags. 
  • Backhoe: Known as “frost teeth,” a backhoe attached to a digging crane is highly effective for breaking up frozen ground quickly. 
  • Thawer: One of the more recent innovations is a thawer. Thawers look like large oil barrels cut in half. They heat the ground with a propane-powered torch to soften the ground for digging. 

It’s uncommon to wait if another option is available. Not only does waiting prolong the process for families, but it can be expensive to afford mortuary services or another temporary solution. The good news is that cemeteries in cold climates are finding more and more effective solutions each year. Cemetery sextons are skilled professionals, and there are few weather solutions they can’t handle.

How Do People Hold Graveside Services in the Winter?

It’s usually possible to hold graveside services in the winter, but the weather can play a significant role. A graveside service can be a moving tribute to a life well-lived, but might ultimately be more trouble than it's worth. 

Many cemeteries make reasonable accommodations for families who wish to have a graveside service. They might offer plowing services, so loved ones can safely access the cemetery. They may also place a carpet or pavilion at the burial site to provide protection from the cold.

Unlike longer services, graveside memorials are usually fast and to-the-point, making it possible for the family to quickly pay respects. 

However, because of the poor weather, many families opt for an alternative to a graveside service. They might hold an indoor gathering, only invite close friends and family to the grave, or skip the cemetery altogether. Lastly, many families wait until spring to honor their loved ones at the gravesite. 

Are There Any Alternatives to Burying a Loved One in the Winter?

There are many alternatives to burying a loved one in the winter. Because it can be expensive and impractical in some parts of the world, many families opt for one of the alternatives below. Luckily, there are more options than ever when it comes to finding the perfect final resting place. 

Temporary mausoleum placement

The most common alternative when cemeteries cannot bury the deceased in the winter is to arrange temporary placement in a mausoleum. A mausoleum is an above-ground burial chamber. These are available during all seasons, and they’re easy to visit. 

However, placement in a mausoleum, even temporary, can be expensive compared to other options. Talk to your funeral director about temporary placement options to learn if this is a good fit for your family.

Cremation

Cremation has become incredibly common and is an excellent alternative if a cemetery burial is not practical. Not only are cremations more affordable, but the family can choose to keep the ashes in an urn or other keepsake. 

Alternatively, ashes can be released in nature or somewhere special. Urns can also be buried in cemetery plots at a later date. 

There are so many unique urns to choose from, making this a customizable and affordable choice. 

Memorial diamonds

Another modern innovation is the invention of memorial diamonds. Through a process that resembles the pressurization that produces diamonds in nature, human ashes or hair can be transformed into a gorgeous diamond.

Body donation

For those who have created end-of-life plans, body donation is a great way to do good at the end of your life. Healthy organs can help others survive, and your body can be donated to science and medical research. 

If you choose this method, cremation is typically paid for by the health organization when the body is no longer in use. Not only is it completely free, but it does a world of good. 

Coral reef

One of the most unique burial alternatives is to turn your loved one into a coral reef. These eco-friendly burials use ashes to make natural reef molds, helping build vital habitats for marine life. 

Because these underwater burials happen off the coast of Florida, they can occur year-round. Though less traditional, this is a great option for someone who loved the ocean. It also means loved ones can visit the site again and again.

Plant a tree

Planting something in nature is a powerful symbol of someone’s life and legacy. It’s possible to include your loved one’s ashes in a tree burial pod, helping them grow or bloom into a testament of life and growth. You can place a stone marker, plaque, or bench at the site to honor their memory. 

Relocate the body

Lastly, you always have the option to relocate the body somewhere warmer if you would prefer to bury them elsewhere. While transporting a loved one’s body is costly, there are many different options to choose from. 

Relocating them to a warmer state gives you the option of burying them at any time of the year and holding a comfortable graveside service. However, check with local laws on transporting and burying bodies before choosing this option.

Honor Your Loved One’s Memory All Year Long

There are no limits to the time of year you honor your loved one’s memory. In the past, a winter death meant waiting a few months before burial was possible. Now, thanks to new technology, it’s possible to thaw the gravesite before burial, making it easier to dig into the Earth. 

There are also a number of great alternatives if you’re open to another final resting place. Honoring a loved one isn’t one-size-fits-all. While traditional burial is a tried-and-true method, it’s not your only option. An all-seasons final resting place might be a better fit for your family.


Source:
  1. Rylands, Traci. “The Frozen Chosen: Winter Grave Digging in Modern Times.” Adventures in Cemetery Hopping. 27 February 2015. AdventuresinCemeteryHopping.com

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