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Some Grave Lessons

A job is a job. It does not matter what you do; it is who you are. This statement is true for much of life, and then there is the job I had at the monument company.

I worked for a small company in Oregon that primarily carved headstones. I worked in the office where I handled the paperwork end. I designed the headstones on the computer, faxed the proofs to the cemeteries and funeral homes, handled contracts, drew up details for the guys in the shop, data entry and billing. I learned immense amounts about the world of granite. Like how the price is dependent on where the quarry is located. Blue Pearl is pricey not, because it has pretty shiny flecks in it, but because it is shipped from Norway. Granite is … heavy. Shipping is … expensive.

So how exactly does a girl get a job as interesting as this? I wondered the same thing the first days at the shop. I would stare at the computer screen and wonder what decisions in my life brought me to this exact place at this exact time? The job only lasted eight months, and it wasn’t a total loss. I gained new insight at into strange sect of society along with some wisdom to live by. Here are a few of my lessons on the job:

1. Plan ahead.

There is a busy season for headstones. No joke. There is a large group of people that visit the graves of loved ones on Memorial Day. Many people wait months to order the headstone then call at the last second all frantic, “I need it by Memorial Day?!” We answer in a calm voice how the process will take six weeks. We will do what we can, but no promises. What the general public does not know is that we have stock piled the most requested granite and are ready to do last minute carvings. So if you don’t want anything too fancy, then yes, you probably can have the headstone set by Memorial Day.

2. Be kind.

Let me tell you a little story about a man who was so rotten that when he died no one wanted to give him a proper burial. His ex-wife finally stepped forward and took care of the arrangements. She had some leftover bitterness, and he is now immortalized with a donkey and a reference to its biblical name. The future will only know him as a terrible person. What was his life really like? Did he have a kind moment? The world hasn’t a clue, just a few remarks from an ex-wife.

This is a true story. If you think that negative epitaphs are sacrilegious, you are mistaken. Headstone companies will put anything on a marker. The aim is to please the customer. If a living person needs to vent, and is willing to pay, then so be it. A donkey and a soft swear word is certainly not off limits. I am often amazed at this man who lived such a wretched life that nobody cared about him. I don’t want to leave this same legacy. I want to be beloved.

3. Pay attention to details.

My boss did not pay attention to details. Sometimes the wrong things are inscribed in stone and once that is done, it is forever. There is no way to undo carving in granite. If the person signed the contract, then they must pay for it. One small mistake can equal hundreds of dollars wasted. What’s the difference of a couple of letters? I mess up all the time in e-mails. The impact is much less noticeable than stone. Etching words into granite forces a person to be more careful. There is no backspace. I once caught this mistake in a proof:

It was supposed to say, “May God’s angels watch over you.”

What was accidentally typed, “May God’s angles watch over you.”

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I’m not so sure an acute or obtuse angle has that much impact on watching over a soul.

4. Do not assume anything.

Often, a married couple may get a joint headstone and fill in every detail except the death date of the surviving spouse. When the spouse also passes away, the death date is added with a cost per letter/number. Cheap people will only add the year. That’s four numbers to pay for. One particularly cheap person added everything possible, including 19 for the death year, then left two spaces after the 19 for the exact year. Who could predict he would outlive one century and four years into the next? Too bad 2004 does not begin with a 19.

What can be done in this case? Option No. 1 cut out the two numbers, fill it with similar granite which is glued in and etched over with 20. It looks tacky. Option No. 2, make an entirely new double headstone that cost’s around $800. So please, do not assume when you will live, when you will die or really anything in between.

So what is the moral of this article? Don’t judge a book by it’s cover? Don’t count all your eggs before they’ve hatched? A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush? A penny saved is a penny earned?

I don’t know, that’s for you to decide.

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