By far the most common comment from those who'd arranged a funeral in the past few years was, "I wish I'd spent more on the monument, and less on the casket, because the monument is all that's left to be seen." This makes sense on a number of levels for, even in the case of JFK, no one can tell if he was buried in a $20,000 bronze deluxe or a waxed cardboard box. The monument is the only thing that doesn't go into the ground, up in smoke, or into the undertaker's pocket.

You'll get to spend plenty on a monument, if you're not careful, and if you deal with the wrong folks (corporate-owned cemeteries/stone yards). In the book we get down to the nitty-gritty with brand names to avoid, common tricks and ploys used, and the specific pitfalls of monuments, -- even how to tell a good stone yard from a poor one just by driving by! -- but here we'll stick to the basics.

There are two types of monument that make up the majority; stone and metal. These are further divided into types of each, with problems associated with all of them in terms of getting what you want, as well as what you pay for.

Stone Monuments

The two types stone you're likely to deal with are granite and marble. Marble is less dense and more prone to turning 'chalky' or staining from pollution, so we'll concentrate on granite. Granite comes in three grades, depending upon its density. They are Light, Medium, and Dark, though you may see other gradations including something called Monument Grade, which is misleading and usually an inferior grade. It's not an outright lie, mind, because you can make a monument out of anything if you so choose and the cemetery will allow it. Suffice it to say you'll want as dense a stone as possible, a dark or dense grade, to avoid the problems associated with erosion and pollution. There is also at least one brand-name you'll want to avoid, due to excessive mark-ups.

Note: Do not confuse Monument-grade for the international standard Monumental Grade which is a rating wholesalers use for their top stone. You should also be aware that the mineral composition of each stone is equally important, and that several types of stone are sold as 'granite'.

Granite is further divided according to where it is quarried, the nominal names being Barre Granite (pronounced "Barry"), from Barre, Vermont, and Georgia Granite, which comes from Georgia and Tennessee. These stones look alike and are similar density, but that's where similarities end. One can cost you double the price of the other. Just knowing that there are three grades of stone, plus which form of granite to request could save you as much as 50% on a monument, or allow you to get twice as much for the same money. At a national average per monument of about $1,300, it is worth knowing.

Per several stoneyards that have been around a long time, buyers fall into two groups; Those over 55 who tend toward a simple, gray granite stone, and those under 55 who tend to prefer the pink, blue, black and other fancy stones. Having the deceased involved in the decision well in advance will insure satisfaction and peace of mind for all concerned. Some stone yards today can key your information into a computer and print out exactly what your stone will look like when carved, which is great for 'balancing information' in an eye-pleasing fashion.

Note:While writing this page, a lady from Dallas phoned to ask some questions about a bill for her sister's funeral. Her first question was on monuments. She'd ordered a marble vase for her sister's grave, to serve until they got a monument, paid a premium price for it from an SCI-owned funeral home, only to find an inferior, marble-dust aggregate vase had been substituted. She phoned the funeral home and expressed her dismay, and was told the company that made that particular vase had gone out of business so they'd have difficulty replacing it. Fortunately, the funeral home had not noticed the manufacturer's slip in the vase, but the family had.

She called the company and learned they had not gone out of business, and that the recommended price for that particular vase was a fraction of what she'd paid. The funeral home is replacing it with the vase she ordered, but her curiosity was aroused, so she inquired about other prices as well. The casket she'd been told she was getting such a deal on at $1,995 (a 20-gauge steel unit) is available from our alternate suppliers for $575, the grave liner she was charged $790 for, is available for under $300, and, to make matters worse, SCI owns the cemetery too! She's been told that, since they gave her such a good deal on everything ($7,800 so far) she has to buy her monument from the cemetery association as well. One can only imagine what that will cost, but it points up the hazards of doing business with one of the corporate giants . . . they are ruthless, money-grubbing, jackals. And you can quote us on that.

Back to the topic at hand, don't be afraid to ask for something unique. With the advent of lasers and other technology, virtually anything you can imagine can be put on a monument. I have seen etched photographs that were beautifully done, tranquil scenes, poetry, you name it. Furthermore, the reputable stone yards often mark their stones so you'll know where to find them. This degree of pride usually denotes quality work and long-lived support in the event of problems later. In the book you'll learn what to do in case of vandalism, and may be pleasantly surprised to know you have options to correct it.

Metal Plaques

The bronze plaque is becoming commonplace in our cemeteries for two simple reasons, both involving money and the cemetery associations. Bronze markers are sold by the square inch, but a square inch of what? Read the book or download the program and you'll know. You should also be aware that the stones and bronze plaques provided to qualified veterans by the VA are free and quite nice. They are also acceptable in most cemeteries, though don't be surprised if someone puts a sales pitch on you to 'use it as a footstone' and buy another monument as well. Oh, and in the case of the corporate-owned cemeteries, you may also find that your contract requires you to either buy your monument from them, or pay several hundred dollars for them to 'supervise' installation of a stone purchased elsewhere (even from the VA) plus pay additional 'perpetual care' for them to true the stone if it tilts or settles.

If all this is making that mausoleum seem more reasonable all the time, you're beginning to see the light. Caveat emptor.

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