A Cross to Mark a Grave

Problem: A loved one has gone and died on you. All the usual offices have been performed, and the mortal remains have been laid to rest. But, for whatever reason, there's no headstone yet. You want the grave marked, and fast!
Solution: Some deckboard fished out of a skip, fashioned into a cross, and tricked out with a strip of tile for the inscription.

Step 1: First Make Your Cross

The ways to mark a grave may be limitless. But in a traditional Church of England graveyard, the best bet is a wooden cross. It is a marker hallowed by time and association, and as such is unlikely to cause remark - let alone offence. If you rock up with a homebrew non-traditional marker, you can expect to run into trouble. I had only a few hours notice that a marker was required, so I used what I had to hand - some deckboard offcuts fished out of a skip, quite by chance the night before. The ubiquitous grooved wooden board is a fair choice because it's easy to work and comes impregnated with preservative. (On the other hand, it does look like deckboard.) I just cut out a rough rebate for the cross joint, screwed it together and cut the base to a point. A conventional headstone has been ordered but delivery has been long delayed. so my cross is only a temporary marker. If i was making a permanent marker, I would obviously go about things in a rather different manner.

Step 2: The Inscription

You can't really write directly on deckboard with a felt tip pen. There are all those grooves for a start. What is wanted is something waterproof and durable. Casting about me, I opted to use an offcut of ceramic tile as the ground for the inscription. I put it on the cross, traced round it, and chiseled out a suitable rebate for it to sit in. Then it was simply glued in place using a tube of 'grabs-like-nails' I had to hand.

The idea was to paint the inscription with enamel paint, and varnish over. But can you find enamel paint when you need at short notice? No.
The shot below just shows the tile with a makeshift marker pen inscription.

Step 3: Now Stake Your Grave

In police jargon, this would be termed 'going equipped'. And what a sly pleasure it is to creep through a lonely churchyard clutching a lump hammer and a large sharpened stake.. Sadly, there were no witnesses to raise an eyebrow at our antics. But the comedy potential was there.

Step 4: RIP

Hammer the stake home, and as long as you've got the right grave, all will be well.

Personal notes:
When my mother died (some years ago), I thought of trying to make the headstone myself. But I lacked confidence. Never having done such a thing before, I faltered. And just as importantly there were the wishes of my siblings and other relatives to take into consideration. It would have required a lot of negotiation and reassuring and compromise. A headstone is for everyone who loved and wants to remember - not just for me. Yet I regret a missed opportunity. Graveyards, in England at any rate, are astonishingly dull and conformist places. I like headstones with a photograph of the deceased, and spouse. Graves with ornaments carrying stanzas of poetry or rhyme. I like statues and colour and animal sculptures. When I go I want someone to make something individual to mark me out. So I was delighted to find a grave nearby marked out with solar-powered night lights - the lovely lady that I made the cross for would have liked them too. And I was surprised and cheered to find that several newer neighbouring graves had home-made wooden crosses to mark them too. My wooden cross will soon be replaced by a conventional headstone. But I'm pleased to have had the opportunity to do this, and if there's a next time, I'll feel rather more confident.

In conclusion - this cross is partly an expression of my regret that I allowed my mother to have a standard gravestone like any other. It has given me a warm glow to be able to do something personal for a lady that I liked. And I urge, with feeling, anyone who feels so inclined to go for it too. Be sensitive, but be positive. Just because everyone else gets a lump of mass produced granite is no reason your loved one should too. Do it yourself, and make remembrance more rememorable. It would enbiggen us all.



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    5 Discussions


    6 years ago on Step 3

    Thanks for this wonderful idea, can't afford a gravestone but have a friend who can make this cross and I can inscribe it. Great idea!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


    8 years ago on Introduction

    With all the thefts of copper/brass plaques and vases I wonder if there is a plastic craft to design a grave marker that would last for a while and not be so expensive.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    Unfortunately in America, putting a loved one in their final resting place is a business. I don't think or have seen any homemade type monuments in public cemetaries because the industry rules that govern them, made up by the businesses, make you purchase it from a vendor and prohibit you from putting your own there. It does help to have closure to done something for a friend though.

    2 replies

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Unless local ordinances are involved (some cities/counties require certain qualifications), anyone can open shop and practice as a mortician, crematorium, etc.; there are no federal regulations on this. As to the actual locations of the bodies post-mortem, that is regulated - you can't just toss a corpse anywhere. And you can't just stuff a corpse in the ground without certain burial requirements being met. I just find it odd and slightly wrong that anyone anywhere can decide to start a burial business with no qualifications, training, or certifications. But hey, we live in America, right?


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    I agree, it is a problem, if you confined by commercial or religious restrictions. But in the UK there is some hope, with a growing green burial movement. There are several woodland burial ventures. And there has been a blossoming of coffin alternatives, from cardboard to wickerwork. I just want to give encouragement to anyone who, like me, would never originally have considered that any alternatives were possible.