June 19, 2018
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Personalized memorials recall those who have passed

By David M. Fitzpatrick, BDN Maine Special Sections

When you talk about granite monuments, the word “trendy” isn’t quite right. It isn’t like headstones have yearly models like the latest sports cars or smartphones, after all. But what people are doing to personalize those monuments is what makes them so special.

Not too many years ago, choices were limited. There were a few basic shapes and colors, but unless you had a fat wallet, you likely didn’t get much more than names, dates, and maybe a few more words on a stone.

Welcome to the age of personalization.

“The imagination is definitely the limit,” said Matthew Niles, a monument designer at Custom Memorial Designs in Old Town.

One key way to personalize is by laser etching into the stone. This requires a polished black granite that, when etched, reveals light gray beneath, creating a dynamic contrast. Now, you can do anything you can imagine, including even in full color: pictures of the departed, photos of favorite places, logos for sports teams, images that reflect a person’s hobbies or occupation, and more.

“I’ve put a crane [on a stone] because a person was a crane operator his whole life,” Niles said. “Computer software, being able to let us design up anything that the customer can think of or want, has made it so that we can make any sort of personalized monument for them.”

The best part is that nobody has to take out a second mortgage to get that ideal monument.

“It’s not as pricey as people would think,” Niles said. “It’s a very common thing now.”

Monuments can even come in any shape you can imagine, from circles to hearts to anything else. If Grandpa was an avid fisherman, you could have a stone cut in the shape of a big fish.

“I’ve seen giant, 4-foot basketballs — everything,” Niles said.

Monuments can even take the form of custom-carved statues.

“That takes a very skilled artist,” Niles said. “Not a lot of people go to sculpting school anymore, so I feel like it might be a dying art. But it’s something else that we offer.”

Cremation continues to surge in popularity, and the personalization has carried over into that. Urns can be personalized, and so can granite monuments designed to contain ashes — everything from custom benches to upright monuments with sealed-in urns. Instead of ashes forgotten on a bookshelf, cremated loved ones can have a place in the cemetery for future generations to see — sort of the best of the cremation and burial worlds.

If there’s a positive side to grieving loved ones dealing with the difficult task of making funeral arrangements, designing a monument is probably it. To be able to create that special monument that honors that person, and tells the world who he was, can be a powerful part of the healing process.

“People enjoy that,” Niles said. “ [The monument] definitely [reflects] who they were.”

The role of the monument designer in helping people achieve such a sacred goal isn’t lost on Niles. As he works with them, he hears the stories of the departed and feels a deep connection with them.

“I’m working with families,” he said. “I’ve learned [about] communicating with the family during this hard time.”

Have feedback? Want to know more? Send us ideas for follow-up stories.

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