Q. My aunt died suddenly and was buried in a plot she purchased years ago. Because she had no children, I am now in charge of buying a cemetery stone. What’s the best way to do this and how should I proceed?

Begin by calling the cemetery to find out its rules for markers, headstones, and other options. Size, shape, design, and other requirements vary widely. 

You can buy the stone from a monument retailer and ask friends, neighbors, or relatives for recommendations. If possible, deal with a local company where you can walk in, look at many types of stones and materials (such as granite or bronze) on display, and discuss the wide range of decorative possibilities in person. This is a unique learning experience and very different from buying online where you choose from photographs. Cemeteries and funeral homes also sell stones, but be aware that you aren’t required to buy from them.      


After you’ve made a selection, expect to receive a sketch of the stone with the inscription and decorative motif. Take your time, “sleep” on your choice, and make changes if you wish. You can’t go wrong if you keep it simple. A good question to ask is, “How will this look to me a year (or a decade) from now?" Remember, too, that this process is an emotional experience. You may want to consider running the sketch past other family members for input. For example, some people want the deceased's photo inscribed on the stone; others adamantly reject the idea. 


Various symbols can be etched on stones, as well. The latest symbols available at veterans’ cemeteries in the U.S. include the Christian cross (plus many other cross variations for different denominations), the Star of David, Muslim Crescent and Star, Hindu Om, and many others.


Due to factors like weather and frozen ground, it can take up to three or four months from order date to prepare and place a monument. Depending on size, craftsmanship and material, gravestones can range in price from as little as $129 (in some online ads) to a few thousand dollars to the sky’s the limit. For example, the quality of granite affects how a memorial sets, weathers and ages. A flat marker, which costs under $1000, requires no installation. See the website of the international association Monument Builders of North America(MBNA), which has a code of good practice, for additional information and to locate monument companies in your area.   


If you have a question for Florence, please email her at fisaacs@florenceisaacs.com.


Florence Isaacs is the author of several books on etiquette, including My Deepest Sympathies: Meaningful Sentiments for Condolence Notes a.... She writes two advice blogs for Legacy.com: Sincere Condolences and Widow in the World, a new blog for bereaved spouses and partners.  



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