Eight years ago, Carmen Linman was assigned to a computer project in the cemetery area of Edmonton’s Community Services department.
“I just stayed; the business caught my heart, simple as that,” she says.
The City’s cemetery sales team supervisor says the cemetery operation appealed to her emotional side.
“It’s gratifying to help people; they’re very grateful if you can make their experience as simple and as easy as possible without adding additional stress. The situation can be difficult enough without it.”
She and her four-person team are responsible for selling cemetery plots and niches at the City’s seven cemeteries, which together contain about 110,000 graves.
In terms of finding customers, they’re probably the most laid-back salespeople you can imagine. They‘re legally prevented from overt marketing such as cold-calling.
“People come to us, either ahead of their need, or on behalf of family who have passed away. Others come because community groups have purchased areas in one or more of our locations for members of their community.”
Edmonton’s Chinese and Muslim communities each have large dedicated areas, as do the military (the Beechmount Cemetery, near NAIT, has the largest military Field of Honour in the Edmonton area).
The hardest part of the team’s sales work is on the emotional side, handling the very wide range of emotions that are experienced with a loved one’s death.
“Depending on the circumstances surrounding a passing, people’s emotions can range from denial to anger, extreme sadness and even acceptance. Sometimes all of those emotions are present in a single interaction.” says Carmen.
The staff are quite sensitive to each other. They all realize they must take time to allow their colleagues to ‘debrief’ after difficult emotional involvements with clients’ families. “We support each other through those difficult situations and interactions,” she says.
Staff must be sensitive about burial customs as well. Different communities have different burial traditions. For example, Islamic faith interments are generally completed before sunset on the day of death. Islamic graves are aligned with Mecca, and their concrete grave liners have no bottom so the body is in contact with the earth. Staff are also mindful of the beliefs of some members of the Chinese community. Some believe it’s bad luck for a shadow to be cast over the grave during an interment, so cemetery staff try their best to honour that belief.
Burial and related services can cost between $2,000 and $12,000 depending on the cemetery, the location within it, and the type of burial. A quarter of the fee is placed into a fund that perpetually funds maintenance and operations.
For pre-need purchases, no-interest payment plans are available; City employees are eligible for a payroll deduction plan that pays for a plot and/or services over a 2-year period.
Cemetery staff encourage the public to visit cemeteries and to use them as quiet, peaceful, contemplative public parkland.
There’s also a big historical aspect to the older cemeteries as well. Call 311 to book $5 summer historical tours. See the resting places, and hear the stories of, people like Emily Murphy and Wop May!
This year is Beechmount’s 100th Anniversary.