One woman came in to report a stolen flower basket from her father’s grave. A man in camouflage pants and a bright running shirt wondered aloud if cremation would allow him to be buried in two different places: “I don’t want to get cut in half.” Earlier in the week, another man came in and declared: “I died last year.” He had a near-fatal heart attack and was declared dead for two minutes, prompting him to make his arrangements sooner than later.
These aren’t conversations you’d hear at the bank, as Jones puts it. But he’s happy to have them.
Rob Jones, the son of an Episcopal priest and a nurse, came to cemetery directing by way of a journalism degree and stints as a radio station rock DJ, line cook and soccer coach. Now, he is the director of the Anchorage Memorial Park Cemetery in Alaska, and his work is a different sort of ministry:
Jones’ window into life, death and mourning is one that few ever peer through. He shoulders a strong sense of responsibility. People marry more than once in a lifetime, and graduate more than once from school, he says.
“But this is just a one-time thing,” said Jones, 51, with a solemn smile. “And if we don’t get it right the first time, we haven’t really done our duties.”
Maintaining the cemetery, meeting daily with bereaved families, adding interactive technology and bringing in actors to bring the 100-year-old cemetery’s stories to life is all part of creating a safe space for people to grieve and perhaps better understand the end of life.
In the cemetery, Jones sees less of the intense grief for someone who has just died. Instead, it’s the quiet visits and sustained grief that a person will carry for the rest of their lives.
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