Monday, August 3, 2015

Committal Shelters Provide Alternative to Graveside Services

By Daniel Applegate
President, Arlington Memorial Gardens

Safety and liability concerns have prompted some cemeteries to develop alternatives to traditional graveside committal services. In its place cemeteries have built “committal shelters,” permanent structures where families gather for the invocation of “final rights” prior to the burial. Families are then required to wait for the burial to be completed before they are permitted to visit the actual gravesite.

While this alternative is certainly not new or novel, it is far from the norm for the vast majority of cemeteries throughout the country. In fact, despite the rise of final disposition alternatives – most notably cremation, many if not most families are predisposed to the practice of gathering at the graveside for the committal service.

And so, while it may run counter to the public’s expectations, cemeteries can hardly be blamed for considering alternatives given the heightened awareness of safety, risk management and the enormous potential exposure that could result from an unforeseen injury. As has been well documented over and again, even the most safety-conscious organizations are subject to freakish accidents: perhaps it’s that one in a thousand accident that wreaks financial havoc.

Recently, when one of Montana’s veteran’s cemeteries built a committal shelter and attempted to strictly limit the location of committal services to the shelter, there was a public outcry that convinced Montana’s governor, Steve Bullock, to issue a counter-directive permitting graveside services upon request.

Here at Arlington, we have retained the tradition by allowing families to hold committal services at the graveside because we believe that most people are loath to break with tradition. What do you think?  Is holding the committal service at the graveside an important and worthy tradition?

Daniel Applegate became part of the Arlington Memorial Gardens organization in 2001 and has worked in the cemetery industry since 1981, including serving as Secretary/Treasurer and then as President of the Ohio state cemetery association.  He was appointed by Ohio Governor George Voinovich and served two terms on the Ohio Cemetery Dispute Resolution Commission, Ohio's cemetery oversight agency. He is a graduate of The Ohio State University holding a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Political Science.