Families faced with the loss of a loved one will be faced with many important decisions in the hours and days immediately following the sad news. So they will likely be thankful that one decision can wait a few weeks, maybe even months or years: what to do about the family member’s cemetery gravestone.
Because it does not have to be attended to quickly, as do matters such as funeral services, obituaries, eulogies, and burial or cremation, the headstone can often be dismissed as an unimportant after-thought in the memorial ceremonies and rituals that accompany the death of just about any one in our modern culture. But to do that is a mistake. Headstones and gravestones, after all, are the longest lasting piece of our memorial traditions. They are often the very thing that keep our family legacies alive well into the future. So, while it is a good idea not to rush into decisions about the installation of a gravestone in a cemetery, it is also important not to postpone the decision indefinitely. Installing a gravestone in a cemetery may be the thing that mourners are dreading to do after having spent a great deal of emotion (not to mention money) on all the other events and products related to a memorial service. Nevertheless, because of the permanence of its nature, it is arguably the most important of all the things a family can do in honor of the memory of a beloved relative. For that reason, we offer these tips and ideas for installing a gravestone in a cemetery.
The Timing of the Installation
Typically speaking it is a good idea to install a headstone in a cemetery within no more than one year of a person’s death. Many families follow traditions by which a grave marker installation ceremony is announced during a funeral service, giving funeral attendees an opportunity to gather together one more time in honor of the deceased. Often these ceremonies take place on the 1 year anniversary of a death, but they also have been known to be scheduled in honor of upcoming birthdays or anniversaries. (It is important, of course, to be sure you leave yourself plenty of time to make sure the gravestone will be ready in time for such a ceremony. Families should count on a minimum of 3 months lead time to be needed for the production of a grave marker. Rushing the production may not be possible, even if one is willing to pay extra.) Whatever the case, the unveiling of a headstone can be a very important and meaningful day of memories and many families have discovered that it leads to an annual event in which family members gather at a cemetery to pay tribute to their relative’s memory – and to partake in a festive reunion – every single year.
The Simple Route: Letting a Cemetery Crew Install A Marker For You
Once the timing has been settled for your grave marker installation, the next thing to consider, of course, is just how the installation will happen. For many people in our modern society this question can be answered without much thought: the cemetery crew will do the installation for us. While it is important to understand that there are often other options, this one does indeed turn out to be the most practical and least expensive in many cases (if not most cases these days). And, while this usually the simplest and least complicated option, it does involve a few administrative matters that are important to understand.
Probably the most important of these matters is simply cost. Cemeteries generally offer gravestone installation for a “setting fee” that most reputable operations make quite clear to all customers – especially upon request. This price varies widely from cemetery to cemetery (often from as little as $40 to as much as $600 even in the same city), and customers may do well to consider a cemetery’s setting fee very carefully before deciding whether to business with the company at all. It is also important to note that United States Federal Courts have ruled that it is illegal (not in keeping with anti-trust rules) for cemeteries to change the setting fee price as an incentive for customers to purchase a headstone directly from them rather than an outside competitor. It is occasionally the case that a customer will inquire about purchasing a grave marker from a third party vendor and, when the company contacts the cemetery to assure that its product will meet requirements, the cemetery staff will attempt to win a sale by offering to, say, waive the setting fee if the customer buys a headstone from the cemetery directly. Many customers are happy to take this offer and drop their plans to buy from an outside source. But consumer activists warn that such a move is not as wise at it may seem: it is important to remember that the cemetery has committed an illegal, and, at the very least, unethical, act in making such an offer. Doing business with a company that would do such a thing may be a risky proposition, indeed. Customers should be very wary of a cemetery whose employees would make such an offer. The bottom line is that, a cemetery must, by law, keep its setting fee the same for all customers.
Negotiating with a Cemetery
The above is not to say that the price of a headstone is not negotiable. Cemeteries are certainly allowed to sell the headstones they offer for a lower price than may be listed on their catalogs and such. The issue is that they may not use the setting fee as part of that negotiation.
Customers have found that, if they seek gravestone price quotes from companies other than the cemetery itself, they will likely find themselves armed with quotes that a cemetery might be willing to match. There is certainly no harm in asking. But consumer advocates also advise that customers not immediately agree to any price reduction offered in response. Instead, give the other company’s a chance to offer an even lower price. Remember, since headstones and grave markers are generally not needed in a great rush, you have plenty of time to stay vigilant and work for the very best price that several competitors can give. It is often the case that all of the competitors will be working with the very same wholesaler or manufacturer to produce the very same marker. So, by staying on top of the case, a family looking to install a grave marker in a cemetery can shave the retail price down to a minimum percentage over the wholesale charge.
When You Can Install it Yourself
Of course, the best way to save hundreds of dollars off the total cost of installing a grave marker in a cemetery is to simply do the work yourself. Unfortunately, many of today’s modern cemeteries do not allow this, and there is no legal provision in which customers may get around this. Though some may argue that it should be illegal for cemeteries to require that all customers hire their crews (for a non-negotiable price, mind you) to install every headstone installed on their property, the fact of the matter is, these policies have been upheld in courts. The legal assumption is that cemeteries can compete with one another very effectively on the matter of the setting fee and that natural, market forces will keep the installation prices as low as possible.
But, that said, there are cases, even in today’s world, in which headstones can be installed by the customers themselves. These usually involve situation in which the cemetery is a small, private, family-based operation. And in these cases, the families often have no choice but to do the installation themselves simply because the cemetery is in such a rural location that hiring a crew to do the installation on a contract basis would likely be cost-prohibitive. For these cases, there are plenty of online tutorials that can be of good assistance, and we will discuss the basics in the next section.
How to Install a Grave Marker Yourself
Many families who have done this job have taken the time to produce online-video tutorials that show exactly how to install a grave marker. The first thing we suggest is that you review several of those, and make a plan of action based on what you see. It is very important to remember that there is not necessarily just one way to do this job, so many families will report from their experience that you consult several videos or other online tutorials before deciding upon an approach – and, even more importantly, do not be wary of adding your own touch to your plan in order to address your specific needs.
But, that said, in general, most approaches to installing a grave marker yourself will involve several common steps. First, you will have to dig a hole in the shape of the marker and make it deep enough to adequately secure the maker when the dirt is filled in around it. (This will vary according to the marker size, but, for most flat grave markers, a 2 -3 inch deep hole will be needed.) Then you will have to make sure the hole is as level as possible so that the marker will sit evenly atop the earth. This can be tricky using a standard shovel, so it might be advisable to consult a hardware store about possibly renting a machine that will do the leveling for you. (But, alas, if such a machine is not readily available to you, a regular shovel can, indeed, do the job. A little frustration might be involved, however.) And, finally, when the hole is leveled, place the grave marker inside it and take note of areas where it does not seem to sit evenly. Lift the marker out of the hole and use sand to fill in all un-leveled. Place the marker back in the hole and repeat as necessary until the marker is sitting as level as possible. (Again, this process may be tedious and frustrating, but patience will yield good results.)
It is important to note that, if the marker is exceedingly heavy, lifting it in and out of the hole will likely be difficult with just one or two people. For best results, make this installation a fun, family affair involving as many people as can be rounded up.
After the marker is sitting level in its hole, fill in any spots around the perimeter with dirt that you originally moved in digging the hole. Pack the dirt as tightly as possible around the marker so as to help keep the marker from sinking too much in the coming months.
Most grave stones are manufacturer from materials that will withstand the elements for decades or centuries, so very little maintenance – other than, perhaps, an annual cleaning – will likely be required for most markers. That said, it will likely be necessary at least once every 5 years or so, for the same crew that installed the marker to return to the cemetery to update the leveling. Even the most compact and rockiest of soil will give way to the weight of a marker over time, and the gradual sinking will cause it to rest unevenly upon the surface. This can be fixed, however, by simply removing the marker from the whole, filling the uneven places in with sand, and restoring the marker to its hole. As with the original installation, a group of strong, patient people will be required, but, the efforts will be worth the work.
Many families have made this maintenance work less tedious for themselves by installing strong, steel-enforced concrete plates just underneath the base of the marker during the original installation. Such work is beyond the scope of this article, but the aforementioned selection of videos will certainly give much helpful guidance on how to do this. Families should realize that, even for the heaviest of grave markers, this step is helpful but not entirely necessarily if a family is committed to returning frequently to the grave site to perform regular leveling maintenance.