Sunday, January 11, 2009

Cleveland: Outside of the box

Arlene Fine of the Cleveland Jewish News is doing a series on women with unusual occupations. This Friday, it was the turn of Karen Gutner of Classic Monuments, who helps families select and personalize headstones.

“Sometimes I feel more like a psychologist than a salesperson,” says the Lyndhurst resident. “I get a lot of white-knuckle flyers walking in the door. I understand that anything relating to death can be scary.”

After they get over their uneasiness, most of Gutner’s clients have sticker shock. The average headstone can run anywhere from $500 to $5,000, and that does not include the cemetery fee for the cement installation to hold the headstone in place.

When some clients learn the cost of the stone is not included in the funeral expenses paid months before, “they are not happy,” Gutner admits. “I try to soften the blow by suggesting locally quarried rather than imported granite.”

But that is not the only issue people must consider. Every cemetery or cemetery association has rules as to the height and width, color and shape of a tombstone. Gutner keeps a handbook listing all requirements and restrictions as a verifiable reference.

“Some family members come in with requests for grandly designed monuments,” she says. “They are astonished and often angry when I tell them a simple granite marker is all that is permitted on that particular plot of land.”

After a headstone is selected, the wording can be the next hurdle.

Gutner says that in the case of a woman who has married more than once, the choice of wording can be a problem when everyone gets into the act (children, stepchildren, surviving husband/s or parent/s) as to what names will appear on the stone.

“Sometimes I have to act as a referee as the gansa mishpochah (whole family) have heated arguments at my desk over the tombstone inscription.” In the end, she adds, whoever is paying for the tombstone or monument usually wins.”
The article ends with Gutner's pleas for individuals to visit a memorial business and pre-pay for the tombstone when prepaying for a funeral.

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