TRAVERSE CITY -- Small kindnesses can make a huge difference to a grieving family.
Like a headstone, an added cost to an already expensive funeral that sometimes just cannot be managed. If a family member is unable to swing the $500 up to thousands of dollars for an engraved stone, a grave can go unmarked for months or years.
For Dawn Basnett, years stretched into three decades and counting for her mother, Pamela, who is buried in Elk Rapids Township's Maple Grove Cemetery. Pamela was brutally murdered in 1976 at the age of 29; Dawn was eight years old. Thanks to a family friend, Tim McKenzie, and a local funeral home director, a simple marker now graces Pamela's grave.
"It was devastating," said Basnett of having her mother's grave unmarked for so long. "We found out she actually had a stone and when her body was exhumed they lost it."
The installation last May provided a measure of peace. This has been even more important now as Dawn faces the scheduled -- and to her horrifying and inexplicable -- December release from prison of her mother's murderer.
McKenzie spotted the notice in a paper last spring that Vaughn Seavolt, of Life Story Funeral Home, was offering to help purchase cemetery markers. Seavolt, who facilitated markers for Basnett and another family last year, is kicking off the program again for 2010.
"He's my savior, let me tell you, he's done so much," said Dawn of Seavolt.
The grave marker service fulfills a vision for Seavolt, who launched his business two years ago determined to make a difference where he could.
"I've been in the funeral business for 23 years now and I always said when I opened up my own funeral home I would be able to help families in ways that were meaningful that I couldn't working for a funeral home owner," Seavolt said. "It was sad to not be able to see families mark the grave of a loved one."
The program is geared to burials of more than a year ago and will run through April 1, a cut-off date to guarantee placement by Memorial Day. Seavolt will evaluate and help people on a case-by-case basis, working with monument and engraving companies as well as cemeteries.
"That way the person has their life honored," he said.
Teresa Faust of Williamsburg also feels a sense of peace now that her son, Levi, has a marker on his grave in Circle Hill Cemetery. Levi was stillborn in December 2002 and the family could not afford this extra cost. Last spring, a friend read an article about Seavolt's offer, sparking a connection that brought the family a sense of completion.
"We're a homeschool family living on a single income and he was baby number seven for us," said Teresa of Levi. "It just wasn't in the budget to pay for a cemetery marker -- it meant a lot to me but I could not justify the expense."
The family chose a stone and engraving that wound up costing around $250 thanks to Seavolt's help. Teresa's previous research had not found anything under $600, a figure out of reach for the foreseeable future. The family declined Seavolt's offer for a full subsidy, feeling they could contribute some, and just paid off their portion of the marker's cost.
"It says, 'Safe in the arms of Jesus.' That meant a lot to me," said Teresa.
Contact Vaughn Seavolt of Life Story Funeral Home at 941-9034 or email@example.com.