Memorials: a fitting tribute to your loved one
"Here lies Ezekial Aikle, Age 102
The Good Die Young"
Inscribed on a headstone in Nova Scotia
Memorials come in many styles and are known by many names: headstone, gravestone, tombstone, grave marker, or monument. Although each term has a slightly different meaning, all are fairly interchangeable in use; they all describe objects we create to honor the memory and pay tribute to the life of a deceased loved one.
Marking graves is an ancient tradition
For centuries, memorials have been used to mark graves and identify the bodies buried in them. When a flat stone covered a tomb or a grave, it was known as a tombstone or gravestone. Today most graves are marked by a headstone, a memorial made of stone or metal and placed at the head of a grave. Many memorial headstones lie flush with the ground, while others are larger monuments that stand erect and may incorporate symbolic shapes or figures. A cremation urn that holds the ashes of the deceased is another type of memorial.
Traditional memorials come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and materials. While most headstones include the name of the deceased and the dates of birth and death, many people today are choosing custom-made gravestones that represent the life of the person buried there. And with growing reliance on the Internet as a means of connecting with loved ones far away, virtual memorials are rising in popularity.
Types of traditional memorials
The materials used to create memorial headstones are chosen for their ability to endure the elements over centuries. The most popular materials used in headstones today are granite and bronze. Granite – a beautiful stone and one of the earth's hardest minerals – has been the chosen medium of memorial artisans for hundreds of years. While bronze has been used in many applications since approximately 2000 BC, however, its use in the construction of memorials is a relatively recent practice.
The four basic types of traditional memorials:
- Upright gravestone: the most common form of memorial today is an upright headstone consisting of two pieces – a vertical slab called a tablet, and a bottom piece known as a base.
- Slant gravestone: slant markers typically stand 16 to 18 inches in height, with the face sloping back on an angle.
- Flat gravestone: flat markers lay flush with the ground and are typically 24 by 14 inches in size, although they may also be larger or smaller than this.
- Bronze gravestone: a bronze memorial generally consists of a plaque mounted on a granite or cement foundation.
Before selecting a memorial, make sure that you understand the cemetery's rules regarding headstones.
As people search for more meaningful ways to remember their loved ones, personalized memorials are becoming increasingly popular. In some cases, a memorial may be personalized by something as simple as a fitting epitaph inscribed on a headstone. More elaborate custom memorials may feature a religious symbol or any object that represents the life of the deceased, such as a sailboat, a guitar, a tractor, or a snowmobile, for example.
Figures may be cut from stone, or images may be sandblasted or etched into the stone. Advances in stone cutting technology have made both types of custom memorials more affordable in recent years.
Not all personalized memorials are placed on graves, however. As more and more people are opting for cremation without burial, freestanding memorials are becoming more commonplace. An inscribed, granite or marble bench in a garden or a bronze plaque attached to a tree planted in memory of the deceased provides a fitting tribute to the deceased outside of a cemetery.
Memorials in the information age
Not so long ago, most people were tied to their communities, and family members from multiple generations were rooted in the same general location, where they had frequent contact with each other throughout their lives. Today, however, more and more people find their families and friends scattered across the country or even around the world, and reliance on the Internet for communication has given rise to a host of virtual communication services, including a growing virtual memorial industry.
Virtual memorials, also known as web memorials, may honor individuals or groups of people whose deaths are related to a common illness or event. Web memorials provide a tribute to the deceased that can be accessed anytime, from any place with an Internet connection.
In addition to memorial readings, prayers, or poems, a web memorial may include audio and video clips and photographs of the person who died. A guest book or memorial blog allows visitors to post condolence messages or share memories of the deceased.
Virtual memorial sites vary in both the services they offer and the fees they charge for those services. Many funeral homes offer a virtual guest book for the deceased's friends and family as part of their standard services, without any additional charge.
Further sources of information
You may find our other articles in the Funerals: everything you need to know section helpful too.
Visit People's Tribute for engraved commemorative plaques.
For biodegradable and more traditional cremation urns, we recommend Richard Lamb New Traditions Funerals.
Visit our Amazon store to find books to help you through bereavement.