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Article updated: 9/20/2013 10:52 AM

Moving Picture: Northlake gravedigger says job part of life

By Mark Welsh

Adalberto Nevarez Jr. gives people the creeps when he tells them he's a gravedigger.

The Northlake resident is following in his father's footsteps. Beto, as he is called, started hanging out at the Mt. Emblem Cemetery every Saturday at age 12, watching his father water the sod and prepare graves for 12 years.

Now, at 24, he's been working at Dignity Memory Gardens Cemetery in Arlington Heights for four years. When digging a grave, Beto doesn't think about his own mortality.

"When I'm digging the grave, it's just a part of life," Nevarez says, "I feel bad for the families that we're doing that for."

The actual hard labor of digging a grave today is done by a backhoe in compliance with local standards and regulations, usually the day before the service. Three feet wide by six feet deep.

In the case where interment of ashes are being laid to rest, manual labor with a shovel and spade, sweat and muscle are used to dig a hole 18 inches down.

Beto uses a steel probe to locate the vault underground beforehand, and when steel meets the concrete lid of the crypt there is a large thud. When this happens, Beto describes it as "just saying hello."

Nevarez says digging the fresh graves is usually incident free, but occasionally some underground shifting occurs and older vaults end up in the way. Families connected to the older vaults are quickly notified and the remains are repositioned in their rightful place.

For the most part, Beto's job as a gravedigger is discretion. He makes sure that the grave is prepared before any mourners arrive, and he waits until the loved ones of the deceased have left the burial site before beginning the process of sealing the open grave and putting dirt back in place, although a few do opt to remain for that part of his job.

Nevarez says he doesn't like being involved with funerals of young children, and those hit home since he has a 4-year-old daughter of his own.

In some cases, he is on-site when disinterments are required, meaning graves are reopened for various reasons, like moving remains to a different location or adding ashes of another family member to the casket.

"When I dug my first grave I thought about it more, that there's somebody deceased right next to me," Nevarez says. "As the years went by I just look at it like a normal job. I don't think about it that much, about my own death."

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