My heart was deeply touched that she remembered this small baby. In conversation, she informed me that she and her husband were the cemetarians where we had buried the baby. In fact, she and her husband paid for the casket and sent flowers to the baby’s service. I remember that check and those flowers. I remember that these kind people were heartbroken for this young mother and father, and that out of kindness and sympathy, they sent a check on the baby’s behalf.
My funeral home provides our basic services for natural pre-term and infant losses at no charge. The funeral home, however, incurs debts on behalf of the decedent, and those debts require payment. These debts, however, are passed along at a wholesale rate. The funeral home does not realize a profit in any way upon the death of an infant.
The cemetarian informed me that the baby's grave remains unmarked. She is concerned that the grave, in decades to follow, will be lost. As new cemetarians replace those before them, the baby's grave may fall off the plot records and someone else may be buried in that same grave. It is a valid concern. The young mother and father were unable to afford a marker for their baby’s grave. The cemetery is not obligated to supply one, nor is the funeral home. A marker is the responsibility of the decedent’s family.
My daughter is a genealogist. She searches our family history continually. Before she could drive, I would take her far and wide to search cemeteries for headstones of past generations within our family tree. Finding a headstone for her is like winning the lottery. She values them as one would great finds of treasure. One day we traveled to another state to locate graves from the pre-civil war period. After deciphering a notebook of clues and a maze of curvy backwoods roads, we finally found the old country cemetery for which we searched. Upon arrival, we discovered there were no headstones marking the graves of our kindred dead. We contacted the cemetery to identify which graves belonged to us, but the records had not been adequately preserved. My daughter was disappointed, years of research and mounds of paper records, at that moment seemed useless. Her heart was crushed. At that moment, the importance of a stone marker became keenly evident.
What then does one do for an unmarked grave? In the case of this young family, the death of their baby was completely unexpected. They did not have a lifetime to save and purchase end of life expenses for their child. In fact, most parents do not purchase end of life expenses for their children. Most often, we see the opposite. If parents have not provided for their end of life expenses; upon death, their children are called upon to provide them. In such a situation, children are usually aware that their parents have not provided for themselves, and each child will take a proportionate share of the costs.
The fact remains, however, that a monument upon a grave is not a necessity, we therefore see a large number of graves that remain unmarked. After a generation or so, these graves become forgotten and lost. In my daughter’s experience, her search for graves more than a century old ended in disappointment.
As an experienced funeral director, I have seen many creative markers in cemeteries. Not all cemeteries allow creative markers, however, some (especially country and family cemeteries) do. I have seen upright markers made of concrete, as well as, very thick glass and natural stones etched with pertinent information. I have seen flat markers made of concrete with seashells or small pebbles spelling out the name and dates relevant to the decedent. Creative markers made of ceramic tiles and other semi-permanent materials have also served families well. The point is that a permanent marker may not be within your budget at the time of death, however, when funds permit, a creative marker having accomplished its mission and usefulness, may be replaced with something more permanent.
I thanked the cemetarian for her kindness in furnishing the casket funds for the young family upon the loss of their baby and committed to replacing a temporary marker for another few years. I hope within that time; the family will find themselves in a better financial position where they are able to afford a permanent marker for their lost son. Also, if your family has unmarked graves, I hope this information will encourage you to consider placing a creative marker until funds are more readily available for a permanent one. In doing so, you can rest easy that your kindred dead will not be lost to the generations that follow.
My name is Tracy Renee Lee. I am the owner and Managing Funeral Director at Queen City Funeral Home in Queen City Texas. I am an author, syndicated columnist, and co-founder of Heaven Sent, Corp. I write books and weekly bereavement articles related to understanding and coping with grief. I am the American Funeral Director of the Year Runner-Up and recipient of the BBB’s Integrity Award. I deliver powerful messages and motivate audiences toward positive recovery. It is my life's work to comfort the bereaved and help them live on.
For additional encouragement, read other articles or watch video “Grief Briefs,” please go to my website at www.MourningCoffee.com.