The most heart-wrenching gravestone that Elizabeth Deveney ever had to help create was for her brother, Matt, who helped run the family’s Dorchester-based monument business. When he suddenly became ill with a rare sarcoma and died at age 35, his survivors were paralyzed with grief. Deveney and White Monument Co., a company that has made thousands of headstones and is renowned for its customer care and responsiveness, took three years to decide what monument to put up for Matt. “Sometimes people can’t get their heads around doing a stone right away,” Elizabeth Deveney says. “And this was the case with us. In the end, we decided to do a freestanding Celtic cross of Vermont granite with hand-tooled sculptural ropes and harp; all the work was sandblasted and stunningly artistic.” The experience has had a profound effect on her as she works with other families to plan their memorial stones. “I’ve cried with a lot of strangers,” says Deveney, who believes she’s carrying on a legacy by running the granite company, which dates to the turn of the last century. The Globe spoke with Deveney about the tombstone business in the 21st century.
“Making gravestones for the cemetery, you’d think, ‘Oh, it must be so depressing.’ But it feels like I’m helping people at the most difficult time of their lives. Often it’s the last thing that people are doing for a loved one, and they want to make it very special. We’ve done it all when it comes to memorial design elements — footballs, ‘Lord of the Rings,’ angels, the solar system. Recently, one woman wanted a full-color etching of a Disney World scene. Her only son had passed away, and they went to Disney World every year. It meant the world to her that we could accommodate this request.
“Most people have never had to pick out a stone before, and there’s a lot of satisfaction in providing a beautiful stone that will be there forever and ever. I don’t think people realize that at least 10 different people touch the stone by the time it gets to the cemetery. Our stone used to come from the Quincy quarries; today the granite comes from all over the world, including Nova Scotia, India, China, South Africa, and other locations. I love the look of Vermont granite gray with a hand-chiseled edge. Granite is so pretty in its natural state; the sun can pick up pieces of the stone, so it sparkles. If that was done by machine, it would be dull. This hand tooling, stonecutting, and sandblasting is an art.
“People come into the showroom and look at the stones and say, ‘Wow, this is amazing.’ If you asked me, have I thought about what will be on my own monument, I’m not really sure, and I’m sure my brother didn’t think about it, either. You would think that working in this business is a constant reminder of my own mortality, but I see it more as a service than focusing on the tragedy of it.”Cindy Atoji Keene can be reached at email@example.com.