Have you seen the footage of people caring for the COVID dead? We have been good about naming the heroes in this pandemic and recognizing the enormous sacrifice and horrible trauma they are experiencing. What I don’t see mentioned, though, on the list of those to thank are those who care for the dead bodies. These people don’t save lives, so they are not heroes, I suppose. But their service is essential and it is numbingly traumatic.
In many locations in the world, they deal with hundreds of dead bodies a day. It is very akin to war where the casualties are heavy. Like the military personnel who have loaded and unloaded cargo planes full of body bags and coffins. In many cases, the dead are being buried in mass graves for safety reasons or are being incinerated.
They might wonder who the people are whose bodies they have responsibility for. Some of these dead are heroes who gave their lives fighting the pandemic. Some are victims of chance exposure or exposure they could not avoid. Some are victims of their own reckless behavior or the reckless behavior of others that exposed them to the deadly virus. The virus got them all.
Unlike medical personnel and first responders, those who care for the bodies of our neighbors, friends and family had no opportunity to get to know the people whose bodies they tend to. No bonding. No sense of the context of their lives. They don’t know who is in the body bag, who is in the coffin. All of the body bags, boxes and coffins are the same. And yet, these dead are not mere statistics. Bodies are heavy, Statistics are not.
It seems that being a grave digger has always been a lowly job. Upstanding people did not associate with them. Yet, these were and are the people who bury those with no money, no known relatives or associates. Without knowing their names or where they came from, grave diggers give them a home, just as they do for those with large monuments.
Let’s name those who deal with the dead bodies among the people we lift up for our thanks and for our blessing. They are servants of our communities.