It's Danny's funeral. (Yeah, I know. Bear with me - it's something that Never Happened.) Sam has been given a handful of dirt to throw on the coffin.
And. Uh. See, I've been to Jewish funerals with all flavors of rabbis, and all levels of observance. And, yes, we do toss dirt on the coffin. But, whether it's a symbolic thing before the machines or cemetery guys come and fill the hole, or it's friends and family filling it themselves, there is one thing we do. We use a shovel. It's not that there's anything wrong halachically with using hands, it's just that shovels do the job *better*. I mean, it's customary for some people to use the back of the shovel first just to make a difference, and, I suspect, to make it easier for the less strong people to do their part - use the the back, you can just...shove a little, use the front, you have to *scoop* - but not hands.
And I don't know the author, and maybe she is Jewish and where she lives or in her family, they do use hands (as I said, nothing halachically wrong with it), but I suspect that she isn't. And either she simply went on a basic and not unreasonable assumption that this is a universal custom, or she did do some research on a reasonable level. To whit: asking a Jewish friend if Jews toss dirt on their coffins, and the Jewish friend saying "Yes", the one asking really if Jews toss the dirt by the handful, and the other saying that they do, indeed, use shovelfuls. This is cultural assumptions coming from both sides. To me, using a handful of dirt is inefficient. Perhaps, to Christians, using a shovel is impersonal.
And, see. I know the handful of dirt is a custom, but I haven't absorbed it because it's so different from my personal experience. So the author's assumption is perfectly reasonable. It's just. Odd to read.
Especially since she got everything else just right, and the story is lovely.