So the main reason for our trip to MN was to be there when Marcellus's headstone was put in. I want to wait to share pictures until I get this rant off of my chest. We are happy (well, as happy as you can be with your baby's headstone) with the stone itself, but there were some issues with it getting ready in time. In my next post I'll share about the headstone and what it means to us.
I thought about whether or not I should "call out" the business we've been working with, but decided against it. While I am all about recommendations, anyone that is in my hometown that would use them already knows about the problems we've been having or can just ask.
First let me say that I never in my life imagined that I would need to order and design a headstone for my child. I had no idea if we went about it the right way, we just did the best that we could. I know some people take a long time to pick out and order their child's headstone for various reasons. I understand that, I understand the financial burden, the emotional difficulty and not being up for picking it out, and for waiting because it needs to be absolutely perfect. For some reason I felt the need to get Marcellus's headstone right away. For me it was important to get out at his spot as soon as possible.
Two days after his funeral we went. A woman my sister works with has a business with her husband and his brother and sister-in-law. My sister got us in contact with her and we decided to go their first. Honestly I don't remember if our original plan was to shop around or not. I really wasn't up for that and really didn't think there would be much of a price difference between places. Plus my dad very generously offered to help us financially so that we could get what we wanted for his grandson.
Marcellus is in the baby section of the cemetery, so there are restrictions on the size and type of headstone he can have. It has to be a flat stone, set flush with the ground in cement. We said we wanted the biggest it could be and picked out the stone itself. I really can't remember the process we went through to pick out the type of stone. That meeting is a very big blur to me. Probably part of the reason many loss parents wait longer to pick out their child's stone. I do remember that we asked when it would be placed because we would need to plan a trip from NC. Being it's MN with cold winters, we knew it wouldn't be able to be placed immediately or anything. She said she could guarantee that it could be in by Memorial Day.
The first thing we were told is that we would have a draft in 4-6 weeks of the design we talked about. We talked about doing all carving versus some carving and some etching. The first draft we were given was well past 6 weeks from when we stopped in. They sent us an example in all carving and we didn't like it.
That was okay though we left the carving we did like (his name and dates) and whited out the rest. Now that we had had more time to think about it, we were at a better place to design the perfect headstone. That was done in the middle of March. I know because I briefly mentioned it in this post. We made many sketches until we came up with something very meaningful for our sweet baby boy. The design would use both carving and etching. And I really did feel good about what we came up with. That it would be okay.
I didn't hear much from the headstone people though and started to get nervous. I communicated with them trough the woman my sister knows and would text or call her cell phone and she mine. Finally I heard that as long as the stone was in by April there was plenty of time to get everything done. We planned our trip for the end of May. We asked of the headstone could be put in somewhere between May 23rd and Memorial Day (May 28th). We were never told that would be problem, but I now realize we were never given a date. Maybe I should have pushed more then, gotten a guaranteed date so we could plan accordingly. But I did mention over and over and over again that we would need to plan a trip from MN so we needed to know it would be in. Again, I was told everything would be fine.
The next time I heard about the headstone was May 14th. The man who does the etching (by hand), was not comfortable doing it on Marcellus's stone because of the striations it has. He was worried that it wouldn't be able to be read it very well (we were having words - lyrics to a lullaby - written on the stone). So they sent a new draft of a similar design, but in carving. Did not like it one bit. So I was frantic. Why were we being told this last minute? A week and a day before we were to leave for our trip. A week and a half before it was supposed to be set? They knew about the stone we wanted since November. I honestly don't know when the stone itself came in, but I know it was well before May 14th. This communication was through email only. As soon as I got the email I tried to call, but there was no answer and I was really stressing out.
It wasn't until the next day when I heard from the lady I had been working with. So countdown...2 weeks until we were leaving to drive across the country to see our son's headstone. At that time she had a really good idea. Normally they have their etching done by the man who does it by hand, but they could use the company they get the stone through using a computer to do the etching. By doing that we could have the writing be in my actual handwriting. Both Mike and I thought that was a great idea! We agreed and everything still seemed like it was on track.
That was until I heard from the woman's husband on May 21st, the day before we were to leave for MN. The production line of the place where the etching was to be done broke down. They had no idea when it would be back up. He told me at that point he didn't even think the headstone was going to be ready at all when we were in MN. At that point I absolutely lost it! We had put off visiting so we could visit when the headstone was being put in. We couldn't switch our trip. I was a complete wreck. Mike was at work and although I already had a therapy appointment scheduled for a half an hour later I called Mike frantic at work. I asked if he could leave early because when I say I was freaking out...I was really freaking out. I didn't know what to do. I went and got him from work and told him about what was going on. We talked, we called the guy back, we eventually got things figured out.
They knew of another guy that could etch it by hand. He would replicate my handwriting and he guaranteed it would be done by Thursday, May 31st. Okay, I could live with that. We already had a prayer service planned for Tuesday the 29th when I thought it was going to be in before Memorial Day. A gathering of our family to share with them how we came up with Marcellus's stone and to bless it. Obviously I had to change that date, but that part worked out alright.
The people who own the business have other jobs, so they only set headstones on the weekends. They wouldn't be able to have it set that Thursday, but would just lay it out at the cemetery.
We went to the place of business the day after we got to my hometown. I needed to talk to someone in person to know what was going on. We met with the woman we originally had met with and had primarily been corresponding with. We made sure we were on the same page with the etching design and that it really would be there by that Thursday. I asked about when it would be set and was told it could be set the following weekend sometime. I left there feeling okay, good even about how everything was working out. Big sigh of relief. We also found out that the man doing the etching had lost a baby 15ish years ago or so. To me that seemed meant to be. It would be more meaningful for him to do the stone.
After seeing the stone that Thursday I sent a text to the woman my sister knows letting her know we like it and asking when it will be put in. She called me to tell me that when the stone gets wet, the etching kind of disappears. And it really does. Mike thinks it's pretty neat...like a secret message or something. She also told me the stone would be placed the next afternoon. I politely asked her to let me know if something came up and it didn't get placed.
We went on Friday and the stone wasn't set. I text, I called. Nothing. I had never heard from her to know that it wasn't going to be done. I called again Saturday, nothing. Finally Saturday afternoon when I called again, the husband answered the phone. I let him know how I upset I was about everything. He tried to be apologetic, but in my opinion was very unprofessional. He kept saying how everything was last minute, and things come up they can't foresee. I repeated over and over again that wasn't the biggest issue. The biggest issue is that things were promised to me that couldn't be followed through on. If they couldn't be guaranteed they never should have told me. I also mentioned how I was told I would be called if the headstone wasn't going to be set on Friday afternoon. Apparently part of the problem is the communication between the husband and wife team. The wife told me the stone would be set that Friday afternoon and when I talked to the husband on Saturday he told me he knew the stone wouldn't be set on Friday. If he knew that...why did she tell me that?
He then complained about the groundskeeper at the cemetery, saying he needs things to be too specific. You should never complain to a customer about someone you need to work with to deliver what they need. He also told me about how they don't make much money on these stones and it's just a part time business for them. And how they're making even less money on Marcellus's stone because he had to pay someone extra to get it done in time for our prayer service. Unprofessional. Very unprofessional.
I think part of the problem also is that the lady sincerely wanted to make these things happen for us. She really did want them to come true. But that is not good customer service. Good customer service is following through on what you say you can do. I never asked for the stone to be put in by Memorial Day. She came up with that date. If she would have said let's push it back to July to make sure everything is done and done right, I would have had no problem with that. We would have planned our trip in July.
The experience was completely miserable and incredibly stressful. More so than it needed to be. If you work in any business with the bereaved you must be compassionate and sensitive, but also direct. I feel like I never knew what was going on with his headstone, that I was just being give the run around.
I am so thankful that the stone was done on time for us to see and share with family and friends while we were in MN. But it was supposed to be set and I am angry, upset, and very frustrated about that. Our trip was planned for us to be there to make everything with our son's headstone is okay. To see it as it should be, properly placed in the ground. For us to be able to set everything up how we wanted it to be. Instead we had to leave hoping it will be okay just sitting out there (we could have had them pick it up, but Mike was more worried about it being moved multiple times). Instead I had to ask my mom to go out and pick up his new toy cars and some other things that were intended to sit on the cement up, so that they don't get lost or aren't in the way for mowing. Instead I have to wait over another week yet for it to maybe be put in. I was still never given a date (oh another thing I was told..."this is a part-time business and we don't want to be working every weekend"). Once it's put in my mom will go out there, set everything up and send me a picture.
And we really do love the stone, which I will share in my next post. But the thing is, this business had nothing to do with how the stone itself turned out. Their job is to be the middle man, to facilitate everything. But I wish I would have just had to contact everyone on my own. It would have been less stressful. The stone is beautiful, but someone else cuts the stone. We like the carving, but that was the carver's job. The etching turned out well, but that was done by the etcher.
Okay, my rant is over. It's longer than I thought it would be, but I needed to complain. To get that out before sharing the beauty and meaning behind Marcellus's headstone. Thanks for "listening".
Marcellus, I'm sorry your stone isn't set like it's supposed to be. Mommy tried very hard to get everything done before we left. I am disappointed that's not done for you. And sorry I had Grandma take your cars away. It's just temporary until you have a flat surface to play with them on. They'll be much more fun on the cement than in the grass. I'm trying not to stay too worked up about the issues we had. But it's hard baby boy. I want everything to do with you to be absolutely perfect. Having to leave you was hard and not having your headstone how it should be made it a bit harder. I hope it gets done soon sweet boy. Mommy loves and misses you like crazy!!! xoxox.