Every month, Chicago resident Linda Kluth is able to place flowers on her late husband's cemetery plot, clean off debris from the headstone, and use an edger to make it look picture-perfect. The catch is that his tomb is in Cleveland—and Linda does not have to leave home to do this.
Sound too good to be true? It's not, thanks to new grave site concierge services popping up around the country.
Kluth, 63, uses a nationwide service called Gravescape to tend to her late husband's grave site, and those of her late parents and in-laws, all of whom are buried in Cleveland. For a monthly fee, a Gravescape contractor not only delivers flowers and details each memorial; he or she takes digital before-and-after photos and reports the time of service along with the temperature and weather conditions at the cemetery. All of this information is emailed to Kluth. It provides her with the peace of mind that her loved ones' final resting places are being taken care of.
"We'd go back [to Cleveland], and the grave was a mess," she said of past visits with her son to her late husband's gravesite. "The cemetery doesn't take good care of it. They just sort of mow over everything. If we lived there, I would take clippers and go do it."
Based in Whitehouse, Ohio, outside Toledo, Gravescape was founded by Mark Martin in December 2007. The idea for the business came to him suddenly on Mother's Day three years ago when visiting his late mother's burial place, which he's regularly tended since losing her at 18.
He looked around the nearly empty cemetery and thought, "How many people can't do what I did today?" He explained, "Cemeteries are in the business of providing general maintenance, such as mowing the grass, refuse removal, and street and curb repair. As a general rule, they are not concerned with the details that family members are concerned with."
Indeed, he continued, often the only time a cemetery places flowers on a gravesite is the occasional holiday. And personalization on those predetermined dates often comes down to "'Do you want the red or the blue one?'" Martin said.
National grave site concierge services such as Gravescape often have thousands of contractors (the company has a whopping 140,000) set up in the farthest corners of the United States to deliver a wide variety of products—such as flowers and vases—and perform an assortment of services, including headstone cleaning, with orders taken via phone and on their Web site.
Whether the services or products that customers purchase are elaborate or simple grooming, it's not just people like Kluth, who have moved away from a loved one's burial place, who use grave site concierge services. Both Martin and K.C. Ballinger — manager of Kansas-based Gravesite Masters, another nationwide service — receive orders from people who no longer drive, have trouble getting around, or have difficulty leaving retirement communities, long-term care, and assisted living facilities.
"Sometimes you'll have people who aren't physically able to go out and do it," Ballinger said of his customers, many of whom hire Gravesite Masters for a one-time service, while others opt for seasonal or monthly service.
With the advent of digital photos (many grave site concierges services send print photos upon request), hiring such a service is the next best thing to actually visiting the tomb. And in the lives of many, visiting and maintaining a loved one's burial place are paramount activities.
"The business of grave site concierge services is very much in line with what people care about and feel in their heart," said psychologist and author Dr. Keith Ablow. "There's a reason why we take such care in choosing caskets and gravestones. It's a way of staying attached to the memory of that person. These services allow you to feel as though you're doing something to honor them."
Colleen Carroll Subin hired Gravesite Masters to place a wreath on her late niece's tomb last winter in Massachusetts. "It was Christmas season," the Florida resident recounted, and the young woman had a November birthday, "so I needed to find a way to remember her."
The holiday sentiment was a hit.
"The whole family loved it," she gushed. "I'm the godmother, so I wanted to do something very special."
After the wreath was placed, Subin received a digital photo of the freshly decorated plot. She still has that photo saved on her husband's computer.
Positive customer feedback from customers such as Subin and Kluth are common for Gravesite Masters and Gravescape. In fact, both companies receive a steady stream of it.
"It's just touching," Martin said of emotional customer reactions, which oftentimes start before customers even make their first order.
"When people learn about what we do, there's just disbelief," Martin said. "It's very powerful."