I never realized that trying to get a headstone for my mother's grave would be a full-time job. At least, that's what it must require to be successful. Since I haven't been able to accomplish that yet, I can only guess that to actually get a gravestone selected, engraved and placed on a grave, must necessitate quitting whatever you do to earn a living, canceling out of all your children's assorted baseball and soccer games and giving up on sleeping and eating.
I say this because despite my best efforts and hours spent leaving messages or being put on hold... forever, I have been unable to even order a grave marker from the specifically required headstone supplier that my mom's cemetery will accept.
What's fascinating about this, is that Jewish tradition -- my family is Jewish -- requires that you hold a funeral and bury your deceased loved one superfast -- usually within two days of their passing.
But once that milestone is accomplished, the whole urgency factor evaporates. Jewish tradition prescribes that you wait several months before holding a ceremony to "unveil" the headstone, which is then placed upon the grave. I'm not sure why, there is supposed to be this waiting period but now I'm beginning to see the "unveiling" in a whole new light.
It isn't merely a sombre event of remembrance -- it's more like a relief ceremony. People have clearly overcome innumerable hurdles to get that gravestone on the grave -- they need to celebrate their success.
I say that because I can't even get the Benjamin Landmark Memorial and yes, I'm naming names here, to return my phone calls to discuss my mom's headstone order. First of all, the place is never open. It's closed days like Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and oh yes, Friday. I've heard rumors that it's open on Sundays. It's also closed on holidays I've never heard of and can't pronounce. If it is open, the only person that you apparently can talk to isn't in that day.
After a a few months of my mounting frustration, my husband Michael agreed to give it a go. He thought I was kidding or inept. Now he's also shaking his head.
He did after multiple phone calls -- we live in New York, the cemetery is in Toronto -- get through finally to some guy named Howard. Basically, Howard told him that NO, we couldn't do anything special, artistic, carved or sculptured on the headstone, that my mom would have loved. NO we couldn't have anything but the standard size of 2' by 2'. And NO, we couldn't have too many words carved on it either. If you wanted a short, squat, plain gray headstone with a giant Star of David and her name -- that they could do.
I have to admit that I haven't spent a lot of time in graveyards particularly modern ones, but one of the most charming aspects of the older cemeteries I've walked through is the variety of the shape, size and inscribed effects on the tombstones. The fact that they are personalized has always seemed loving and beautiful to me.
So why does the Holy Blossom Memorial Park in Toronto have so many rules? Who decided that gravestones that were all nondescript, one shape and size, the regulated way to go? Why is there cemetery dictatorship? It feels so Mao Tse-Tung to me. Apparently, one other poor family attempted to bend the headstone rules and they ended up with their "unique' tombstone, sitting in a shed... while they butted heads in litigation with the cemetery, FOR TWO YEARS!
Now I can understand when you have a memorial park like Flanders Fields with its miles of simple, white crosses, that the conceptualizers were going for a striking effect. But rows of short, squat grey headstones doesn't say spiritual to me.
I'm wondering though who are the strident advocates for dull, uniformity at my mother's cemetery. It's not like people are saying "I refuse to be buried there if you allow mixing of different tombstone styles... I'd rather die than be buried next to a taller one. Wait, no, it's I won't die, if I'm going to be buried next to some individualistic headstone."
Now maybe I just hit the reason for the lack of responsiveness to my and Michael's attempts to order a tombstone. Cemeteries truly are a recession-proof business. No matter what the economy is doing, people keep on dying at the same rates. Dying is one thing most people can't cut back on, like their heating bill. So cemetery operators don't feel the need to compete. They can treat grieving relatives with callous disregard. It doesn't matter -- after all, what are you going to do to protest? Get cremated?
In the meantime, we have finally thrown up our hands on trying to create a more beautiful sculpted headstone that reflects my mother's love of nature and art. We did the best we could with the standard choices, ticking off all the boxes on the headstone order form that we finally obtained.
Michael faxed it in over a month ago. He's now left 45 messages trying to follow up with Howard to make sure that our order is underway. But no luck on a returned call.
Since especially after this blog, my poor mom is probably going tombstone-less forever or until I get really rich and can have her dug up and moved somewhere more dead-friendly, we have decided on an alternative plan. Since we know my mother's spirit isn't hanging around that cemetery anyway -- it's in nosebleed country -- and we feel her presence in our home, we're commissioning a memorial sculpture in her memory to place in our garden, which she loved.
Sorry Ma, that we've been headstone failures so far. We just hope you're laughing along with us at the ridiculousness of this situation.
But if any of you who read this have had similar experiences and have advice on how to successfully overcome this headstone impasse, my husband and I, and I'm sure that my mom as well, are all ears! Please share! And when her new gorgeous marker is ready and planted in our garden, we'll toast her with a glass of chardonnay and chocolate, which she'll love!
My husband and niece are raising money for cancer research in memory of my mom Tanya, with the Ride to Conquer Cancer. If you can, please donate!
Follow me on Twitter at twitter.com/bonniefuller.
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