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'I love digging': 89-year-old man digs his own grave

An 89-year-old P.E.I. man has dug his own grave. Jimmy Kickham from Souris West, P.E.I. has run his construction company for fifty years, and often digs graves with his backhoe. He decided it was time to dig his own grave.

'The grandchildren will know that their grandfather dug his own grave with his own backhoe'

Jimmy Kickham strolls through the cemetery at St. Alexis church in Rollo Bay, P.E.I., where he's already dug his own grave with his backhoe. (Pat Martel/CBC)

For anyone passing St. Alexis church in Rollo Bay, P.E.I., one afternoon last summer, nothing seemed out of the ordinary about the small group gathered in the nearby cemetery.

The people were standing around, watching as a backhoe scooped up the red earth, and then lowered a pine box into the freshly dug grave.

But what made this scene extraordinary, was that the man operating the backhoe was actually digging his own grave. 

Jimmy Kickham still runs his own construction company after more than fifty years, digging everything from trenches for phone lines to graves. (Pat Martel/CBC)

'No matter what they wanted dug, I could do it'

Eighty-nine-year old Jimmy Kickham from Souris West, P.E.I., said it's not so farfetched when you realize his back story — that he's been digging for a living most of his life. 

Kickham owned his own construction company for more than a half-a-century, digging trenches for everything from sewer mains to underground utility wires.

"I love digging. Just one of those things that gets into your system. It's just work. Money. No matter what they wanted dug, I could do it," he said. 

Kickham still works most days, digging with the same Massey Ferguson backhoe he bought 45 years ago. 

He's also dug dozens and dozens of graves with his backhoe.

Jimmy Kickham stands next to his freshly-dug grave, which will one day be his final resting place. (Pat Martel/CBC)

'I just thought I'd do my own'

"There's nothing different for me to dig a grave, just natural. I dug enough of them, God knows," said Kickham.

But those graves have all been for other people.

"One day I was digging graves and I just thought I'd do my own if I lived to be 90, so I'm 90 years of age and it's already done," he said.

Kickham's 90th birthday is on Thursday, and he's in good health, so there's no urgent need for the hole.

Jimmy Kickham dug his own grave 0:59

Family needed some convincing

Kickham said his family needed a little convincing when he first told them of his plan to dig his own grave.  

"Kind of looked at me, 'What are you talking about?' I said, 'No, I mean it.' So they agreed then," he said. 

"And then I seen the priest first and then the undertaker and got the measurements, although I knew the measurements from the ones I dug before," he said.

Jimmy Kickham explains to graveyard maintenance man Eric Gallant why he decided to dig his own grave. (Pat Martel/CBC)

Wanted an old-fashioned funeral

Kickham dug the hole five feet deep, put in the empty pine box and covered it again with soil.

Kickham said he wanted to be buried the old-fashioned way where a few days before the funeral, the grave would be dug and a pine box would be lowered into the hole and covered with the Island's red clay.

The idea is that when he and his casket are ready to go into the ground, the only work left will be to remove the few inches of soil on top. On the day of the funeral, the pine box would be opened, the casket would be lowered into it, and then dirt shoveled on top. 

"It's only these last number of years they done away with it. Now just your casket goes in the hole," said Kickham. 

It will only take a few shovelfuls to unearth the pine box.

"After I'm in there, they put the cover back on a fill it in again." 

'To each his own, eh'

Kickham said he expects some people will find the idea of a man digging his own grave as strange.

"Oh, there'll be a lot of them have some remarks about it, but if they're not talking about me, they'll be talking about somebody else." 

Jimmy Kickham says he wanted to be buried the old-fashioned way, with the pine box placed in the hole a few days before the funeral, and the casket lowered on the day of the funeral. (Pat Martel/CBC)

"Well, to each his own, eh?" said Yvonne McQuaid, a maintenance worker and Kickham's neighbour.

"It's something else. That's one of a kind, I figure," said another maintenance worker, Eric Gallant. "The only thing that's missing is his casket."

"And me!" quipped Kickham. 

One less thing to worry about

Kickham replied that it's really no different than people preparing for the end by writing their will or preparing their own funeral service. 

He added that it's one less thing his family will have to do when he dies. 

"They'll know it's already done for me so they wont have to worry. Just a matter of taking the top off, opening it up, and that's it," he said.

Jimmy Kickham says he hopes his grandchildren will remember his sense of humour, and that 'they will know that their grandfather dug his own grave with his own backhoe at the age of 90.' (Pat Martel/CBC)

Kickham is also hoping that his family will remember him as a man with a good sense of humour. 

"The grandchildren will know that their grandfather dug his own grave with his own backhoe at the age of 90. So that'll be something for them to carry around, won't it?"

About the Author

Pat Martel

Pat Martel has worked with CBC P.E.I. for three decades, mostly with Island Morning — from a writer-broadcaster to a producer. This year, Pat joined the web team with an eye to create great video. Pat also runs an adult coed soccer league in Stratford. He always welcomes great story ideas that are visually appealing. pat.martel@cbc.ca