To build a practical memorial granite bench
You might want to build a bench to honor a relative, a hero in your town or a special event. Here is what we did. My family and I designed and built a granite bench to honor my husband. The bench is in the center of our family burial lot. He died when he was only 58, and it was important that my son, daughter and her husband and I work on something special to mark his life. The project took a year and a half, and it worked as a precious healing time for us, which is exactly what I hoped it would be.
May this essay of mine speed you on your way if you are thinking of honoring a person or commemorating an event or a place. I felt my husband’s life demanded special attention, and as I was now head of the family, I was going to be sure it got it. I wanted a project for us that would let us pay tribute to him and help us close his life with the respect it deserved. He died so young with no warning. Very quickly, we found a place we liked in a garden cemetery that is dear to my son’s heart. He led that process. We did the rest with each of us doing what we could do best.
As most cemeteries do, it had design and placement restrictions, actually a set of guidelines and rules. We reviewed the rules and generally agreed with them except that lettering and decoration could not be embellished with gold or color. At first, we had a meeting with a design firm and asked them to design our bench, but theirs was too fancy. Their work was done on the agreement that we only paid for it if we liked it, and we did not. They had agreed because the project was quite different and they wanted to give it a try. I thought we could do it on our own.
So we proceeded with our designing and all the plans that were necessary. My daughter drew a bench and the templates for the decoration and wrote the inscriptions for both it and his gravestone. She was back home overseas at that point, and phone calls were expensive. This was many years before Skype or vigorous competition between phone service providers. Nevertheless, we mailed and faxed drawings until we had that part together. We all liked it. Her husband made a small wood model which let us visualize the design.
My son and I checked out the work to actually make the bench. I visited two stone cutters, one a young man and the other a seventy year old woman, an old timer and more of an artist, to see about the design and inscriptions, but hand stone work turned out to be impractically expensive. Instead, my son heard that a friend did etching on glass and asked him if he could do it on granite. He could, and the cost was far less and less time consuming than stone cutting. My son made an appointment at the E. L. Smith Quarry in Barre, Vermont, and set off from his home in Massachusetts with our designs. When it was finished his friend went to the quarry and did the etching.
Next were some of the very practical tasks. The bench was to be put on a truck and delivered to the cemetery, but first, it needed a concrete foundation to be poured, cured and ready to receive it. I called two landscape designers to see if this was something they could do. One seemed too casual about it and setting a bench that weighted at least a ton was not a casual task. The second designer had just finished her studies in landscape designer and was quite positive about what had to be done. When it was delivered, truck, crane and workmen, she was on top of the job like the true supervisor she was trained to be. Over twenty years later, the bench is there, as solid as it was on the first day it was set. Our designer chose the plantings, a fothergilla, as the background shrub for our lot, and low plantings around the armrest. Fothergilla is a flowering shrub that grows to about 10 feet high and has white fuzzy flowers in the spring with downy twigs and pretty leaves, native to woodland and damp ground. Our lot is shaded and that worked just fine.
We are proud of the design of the bench; it is soft, medium gray granite, five feet long and curved, rounded at one end and with a substantial, boxy arm rest at the other, and the back curves up in the middle. There is a floral design etched into the back and my husband’s (and our children’s) surname and mine are on the side of the arm. We all worked together and contributed different talents. Each of us was responsible for different parts of it depending upon what we were good at.
We visit it when it is covered with snow and sit on and talk and look at the scenery in the sun in good weather. We like our bench. We discovered we could do this, and it is not only heroes and notables who can have a bench. My son lives close by and often visits to sit and enjoy where it is, in a garden cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts. We wonder how many other people sit on our bench and we hope they enjoy it too.