Hollywood loves this convention: weepy relatives at the funeral line up to throw handfuls of dirt onto the coffin. It’s a touching symbolic gesture, and I can see why Hollywood loves it, but here’s the thing: I’ve attended dozens of funerals (all in the southern US) and I’ve never seen it happen.
So who does this in real life? Is it a regional thing? Or is it a ritual of a particular faith? Can anyone enlighten me?
One of my most vivid memories is standing by his grave and being handed a “wand” (someone more up-to-date Catholic than I can likely name this instrument) and being told to sprinkle holy water over the coffin after it was lowered into the grave.
Thereafter, my Mother and all other mourners sprinkled Holy Water over the coffin.
My Mother then took a handful of dirt and dropped it into the grave. She was the only one to do this.
I have always thought that the water was a blessing for the departed and that the dispersal of dirt was symbolic for the widow/widower burying their next of kin.
This is likely an Irish-Catholic custom with which I am familiar.
I suspect the Hollywood thing is more in tune with “instant film clips” and/or “sound bites” than any real custom - though I cannot back this up with citations etc.
My family throws roses from the coffin blanket (and sometimes children [but not our own]) into the grave after the service but not dirt. At most funerals that I’ve been to there’s an astroturf like carpet that covers all but the open grave and no dirt to toss in.
My parents said that when they were children they didn’t sprinkle dust but went a step further: at some funerals the nearest and dearest picked up a shovel and actually shoveled in a scoop of dirt (not enough to fill the grave of course, but more symbolic). I can see how it would be good for coming to grips with the reality of the death.
I’ve been to several funerals in the last few years, in different parts of the country (three in Texas and two in Massachusetts). None of them involved actually observing the casket being put into the ground. There was a wake/visitation at the funeral home, service at the church, and a final ceremony at the cemetery. At this point everybody went home.
I’m told that it is thought to be “too traumatic for the family” to actually watch the casket being put into the ground. So no handfuls of dirt, either.