The most heart wrenching gravestone that Elizabeth Deveney ever had to help create was that of her brother, Matt. He helped run the family’s Dorchester-based monument business but when he suddenly became ill with a rare sarcoma and died at 35, the stunned survivors were paralyzed with grief. Deveney and White Memorials, a company that has created thousands of headstones and is renowned for its compassionate customer care and responsiveness, took three years to decide on what monument to put up for their loved one. “Sometimes people can’t get their heads around doing a stone right away. And this was the case with us. In the end, we decided to do a free-standing Celtic cross of Vermont granite with hand-tooled sculptural ropes and harp; all the work was sandblasted and stunningly artistic,” said Deveney, 39. This experience has been profound for her as she works with other families as they plan their memorial stones. “I’ve cried with a lot of strangers,” said Deveney, who feels she’s carrying on a legacy as she runs the granite company that dates back to the turn of the century. The Globe spoke with Deveney about how the tombstone business is more alive than ever.
“Making gravestones for the cemetery. You’d think, ’Oh, it must be so depressing.’ But to be honest, if 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 Land 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 its 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.”