Headstone delays continue to burden funeral industry, grieving families

Supply chain issues, labor shortages at granite quarries to blame
Posted at 9:54 AM, Mar 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-18 09:54:29-04

SOUTHFIELD, Mich. (WXYZ) — Robert Locher and his siblings lost their mother Barbara in December of 2019. She and Robert's late father were laid to rest at Ottawa Park Cemetery in Clarkston.

“We go up to the hill to see both of my parents and stuff. It’s just, it’s not the same," Locher told Action News.

That's because the family is still waiting on a custom monument for the couple, made of black granite coming from India.

The special companion monument was ordered last October, and Locher never imagined it would take this long.

"I thought maybe a month or so. But it’s been a long time," he said.

Headstone design, courtesy of the Locher family.

It's a devastating situation but sadly isn't unique. Pandemic-related supply chain issues and port back-ups are keeping the granite required to make these monuments from getting to their destinations on time.

“Big monuments coming out of state, out of the country, those have been a hassle," said Nibras Hanna, co-owner of Southfield Funeral Home.

Southfield Funeral Home is not associated with the Locher family's monument, but Hanna said he's been dealing with this problem for months now.

In some cases he said it's taking double the time for headstones to arrive.

Hanna and his team work with quarries from all over the world

“Vermont, Georgia, China, Uruguay, India, all over the place," he said. "Normally what would take us about six to eight months for a big monument now it’s taking us about a year a half.” 

Labor shortages at quarries is playing a big role, Hanna told Action News. And it's also driving up the price for granite.

“30 percent more," Hanna said.

He's noticed families opting for smaller, flat lying headstones as a result, or ordering the cheapest granite.

And it's not just granite that's an issue. The rubber stencils required for letters on headstones are also in short supply. According to Hanna two of the local companies that made them have shut down since the pandemic started. Now when they order them from overseas, sometimes their orders are fulfilled but other times they're denied due to lack of supply.

“Now we do get stencils from China but they’re very hard to get and it’s taken us a very long time to get them," Hanna said.

The Locher family's monument was ordered from a company based in west Michigan, Patten Monument Co.

“They’re doing the best they can do, I can’t blame them," Robert said.

Barbara and Robert Locher Sr. Courtesy of the Locher family.

It's now expected to arrive by May or June, but even that can't be guaranteed. And once the monument does arrive, the letters will still need to be etched in.

Given this experience, Robert suggests families with aging loved ones consider planning ahead when it comes to monuments.

"I would definitely order it first now. And then wait for their passing you’ll have it," he said.

Hanna said the labor shortages at quarries he works with has improved some, but it could still be another year before things return to pre-pandemic levels.