Tombstone firm takes advertising into the hereafter
Punting its services until kingdom come.
Margaret Graham's husband, Robert, contracted lung cancer and died in March 2010. Sixteen months was all it took, from the diagnosis of the disease to his last breath.
Graham is buried in the Pretoria East Cemetery. For a few years the grave was just a rain-pounded, anonymous mound of earth, evoking that forlorn line in the book of Job: "His remembrance shall perish from the earth and he shall have no name in the street."
To rectify this, Graham saved up to erect a tombstone to honour the memory and name of her husband. When she had a sizeable amount saved, she approached a Pretoria company, VyfsterGraniet (Five Star Granite), last year to erect the monument.
"I went through its brochure and found a tombstone that I would remember my husband with. The company told me it would take a month. [I asked] to be there on the day it erected the stone, but I was not informed about it. But it would not have worried me if the job had been done well," she said in her Fairie Glen home.
When she finally went to the cemetery, she saw that in addition to the biographical details of her husband (Robert James Graham, born 27-03-1947; died 01-03-2010) the company had inscribed its website details: www.vyfstergraniet.co.za.
"I found it really hurtful, disrespectful, a desecration of my husband's tombstone," she said.
Graham said she called the company many times and sent emails asking it to remove the details of its business from the tombstone.
Even though the company's reply was barely literate, its message was clear enough: "The advertisement that you refer to is our company name, on all the tombstones, the last block of the base is for the cemetrie's [sic] use and the company have the right to put their logo with the grave number. If you want it to be removed there will be costs involved."
The widow refuses to pay, saying that "even though I don't know the law, I know this is wrong".
"I want their name to be taken off. If they want to advertise, they should put up a billboard, or book some space in a newspaper. They can't get a free ride. Will they pay me for the advertising they have had all this while?
"I don't want money or anything, I just want their name removed," Graham pleaded.
"It [the message] is final; its name is permanently on my husband," she said. "It's the last thing that people will know. I don't want its name there. It is not family."
When I called the Pretoria company, a person with the name Annatjie, with whom Graham had been communicating, said: "It's not an advertisement. We put that on all our tombstones."
But a glance at the headstones on the company's website reveal that not to be the case.
Death is normally an interruption in the commercial world, but Graham's case proves that buying and selling continues into eternity.