Movies sometimes lead people to misconceptions about the reality of what happens in life, and placing grave markers is no different.
In movies, the final cut of the burial scene is usually the erecting of a headstone or a simple cross. The characters are usually seen grieving over their lost companion, seen digging a grave perhaps, and then seen driving a cross into one end of the mound of dirt that now exists.
Although this might have been the case in the wild west, it is hardly the case in modern-day burials.
You should wait a minimum of 6-12 months before erecting a headstone. The time gap between the actual burial and the erection of a headstone will vary. Soil settlement time, the climate of the site, the traditions of the families, and the period of aggrievement are all important considerations.
Clearly there is no clear cut answer to when you should put a headstone on a grave, even some of the professionals closely linked to funerals get it wrong.
So, Let’s take some time to look at some of the factors that can influence the time you are required to wait.
Tall or Flat
Generally, when we hear the word headstone or tombstone, we picture rows of stone slabs shooting up out of the pristine grass in neat patterns. For these types, we will use the term vertical headstones.
But there is another quite common type, which we will call horizontal headstones here. This type of headstone sits flat on the ground in the manner of a plaque hangs flush on a wall. These two types headstone, intuitively, would fall under different considerations.
Most suggestions are that vertical headstones should be placed no earlier than 6 months after burial while horizontal ones can be placed only about 6-8 weeks after.
Why is this?
Well, slight changes in the alignment of vertical headstones are much more pronounced than slight changes in their horizontal counterparts.
With this in mind, the acceptability of shifting in the position of either type of headstone must fall under different considerations.
At the end of the day, it’s up to the family paying for the installation of the headstone and to the manager of the aesthetics of the cemetery to decide whether to risk it or not.
Letting it Set
Tombstones are usually meant to be permanent. They are supposed to continue standing for several decades, if not generations. (see my article on the longest-lasting headstone materials) A vital consideration is to allow the earth to settle before we erect our headstones.
When we dig up the earth, we tend to loosen up packed soil. When this soil is put back, it contains tiny pockets of air. There are two ways to reduce this air.
One, and if you feel comfortable doing this to the grave of your recently lost loved one it can reduce the wait time, is to use machines to pack the earth down.
These machines tend to bash the top of the soil down until it is back to a density similar to that which is was before we dug it up. Construction companies use them when they are building foundations.
Alternatively, we can use nature to allow it to settle. Rain and the simple rising of lighter air will cause the soil to set, but this will take time. Time that you will need to be patient about while it passes.
Why is this even an issue?
Well both types of headstones, vertical and horizontal, will move along with the movement of the soil around them and may result in a vertical headstone that leans, or a horizontal headstone that is askew.
Most graveyards either suggest or require that 6 months of soil setting is required before a headstone can be erected. However, some even suggest a full year to allow a cycle of all the seasons to take place.
For me personally, these seems sensible and can act as a timely memorial to remember the passing of a loved one.
This issue can be circumvented by choosing a concrete-lined grave because there is no soil that needs to settle. However, these types of graves do come with an added cost that makes them inaccessible to many people that are considering headstones.
Also, they aren’t particularly eco-friendly. If you are interested in planning a funeral with a smaller carbon footprint, then please read my full article on planning green funerals and another one on biodegradable caskets.
Large Medium and Small
There are three grave options that we can consider that play a role in deciding the grace period between “burial” and the erection of a headstone.
Are we burying the full-size casket or are we burying an urn filled with the cremated remains of our loved one?
Or perhaps are we burying nothing at all and keeping the cremated remains in an urn at a different location?
There are many other motivations for making the choice between burial and cremation but we will not get into them all here.
So if we are burying something we need to consider the size of our grave. The more soil we dig up, the longer it will take to set back.
A full-size casket, on average, is buried in a grave that is 3 feet wide but 9 feet long and 6 feet deep (but some are 2.5’x 8’ x 6’ while others can be 4’ x 10’ x 6’ ). That equates to 182 cubic feet of soil.
A cremated remains grave is sometimes as small as 3 feet wide by 3 feet long by 2 feet deep but equates to only 18 cubic feet of soil and a difference of 164 cubic feet when compared to the average casket grave.
So the larger, deeper graves needed for casket burials will inevitably require a longer grace period than the smaller shallower ones used for the burial of cremated remains.
And if we are not burying any remains at all, we simply have to wait for the administrative requirements of buying the site and having the application permitted to be fulfilled.
There is also the consideration of the current season that plays a factor. In your local climate, is there a heavy rain season?If so, you might want to avoid completing this task during it.
Is there a permafrost season upcoming in your climate? If so, you may be able to beat the season for the burial, but then not for the erection of the headstone, meaning your wait might be increased.
Basically, if you live in a region with any ‘extreme’ seasons then you will have to wait longer than the minimum 6 months for most installation of headstones, especially if allowing nature to take its course.
Religious Beliefs or Traditions
The Jewish faith requires that there be an entire year of waiting between the burial and the headstone erections. But, if you practice this faith you probably knew that already.
Whether you’re Jewish or not, this can be a valid consideration. But scheduling the headstone erection a full year after the burial you might be helping to build the tradition of visiting the grave annually, which might be something of desire.
It’s also a good way to spread out the cost of a funeral and gives you that one less task to organize directly after the funeral. Instead, you can order your monument with a little more time and less stress.
If you haven’t yet chosen the headstone you want to install, then you should probably read my article on the average cost of a headstone and how to get the best deal.
Time to Consider
The longer you decide to wait, the more time you have to put into the consideration of the headstone itself. The wait time can be used for grieving without this pressure, and then when the family is ready they can start the design of the tombstone.
There are several things to consider, and they are best considered when not in the depth of your grief. I’ve made a list below with some of my own articles which can help you with each decision
- choosing the headstone’s material
- Getting a headstone within your budget
- choosing the right inscription
- considering the cost of engraving the headstone.
All these considerations take time and probably should not be made in a high-stress time.
Out of Stock
There is one final consideration and that is the availability of materials for the headstone.
Headstones are often crafted from select materials and your choice headstone mason might not have the materials in stone. They are natural products after all and they need to be found via mining in the natural world.
The mason you have chosen might need to find a holder of your desired materials and have that material shipped across the country before he can even start work on it.
A Caution About Waiting
Although most people, me included, suggest that this is not something you should rush. You do have to stay on top of things.
Procrastination leads to neglect. If you wait too long, you are at risk of never doing it. Although that might be desired to some, here we are assuming that the desire to have a tombstone is already considered and that having one was selected.
Furthermore, waiting might lead you into the seasons discussed above that are not ideal seasons for erecting headstones like the rainy or permafrost seasons.
They Told Me to Wait
There is also the final consideration of the regulations of your selected cemetery. Cemeteries are often private property or at least run by private companies and they have the right to set whatever guidelines or restrictions they wish.
For more information, read my article on whether you need permission to erect a headstone or not.
Besides, generally, they make these decisions with due diligence and consideration as to what is best. So if your cemetery wishes to restrict this, you have little recourse but to obey. If you wish not to, you can consider burial on your own private property, which I have covered in another article.
A lot of consideration comes into the decisions we make when we deal with the funeral of a loved one. The time grace period of when we burial our loved one and when we erect the headstone is just one more consideration that requires careful deliberation.
All these thoughts and processes can not be dealt with in haste and in a short period of time. We hope that we have been able to make this process that much easier even though, like most aspects of funerals, there is no set answer that applies universally across the board.
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