07 April 2008

Winnepeg: A grave man

The Winnipeg Free press offers a spotlight on "A grave man," Lorne Raber of Eden Memorials.

Lorne Raber hears Winnipeggers say it all the time:

"When I die, I don't want any sort of marker. I want to be cremated and have my ashes scattered."

But to Raber, owner of Eden Memorials and president of the Monument Builders of North America, throwing one's identity to the winds is an incomprehensible preference.

"No one's going to know who you were!" he says. "Everyone that walks the face of this Earth should be remembered.

"To my way of thinking, it means your life wasn't worth anything. It doesn't matter what size (of memorial) it is, but there should be something. Wouldn't you want people to know you existed?"

He mentions a memorial destined for a Saskatchewan cemetery and a recommendation for an inscription in the deceased's Hungarian, and even what he wants his own epitaph to read.

When he took over the business, Raber went to Minnesota to see how granite is quarried and finished, so he could speak about it first-hand.

He became active in the 700-member Monument Builders of North America that in 1999 he became one of only 125 certified memorialists in the world, and the only one on the Canadian Prairies. Among the requirements, he had to write a four-hour exam on everything from how granite is created to grief counselling. He became so active that he was elected president of the group this year, the first Jewish head in its 102 years.

The company has created monuments for Holocaust survivors on which the names of family members who perished are carved on the back. A Star of David made from barbed wire symbolizes this kind of remembrance.

For Raber, the manner in which Jews were killed in concentration camps is another reason why the ever-increasing popularity of cremation does not sit well with him.

"As a Jewish person, knowing of the Holocaust, I can't comprehend why anyone would want to get cremated," he says.

One comment that will warm the hearts of genealogists: He believes that a woman's maiden name should be on her gravestone: "It helps place her in the context of family members and community, he says, and is vital for genealogy. Maiden names are really, really important. What we do (creating headstones) is a historical record."

There's more on designing headstones, on cremation, monument wording.

While some people joke about his work, he says, "Don't make fun of me. I get to spell your name at the end."

If you're a current or former Winnipegger, you'll recognize many of the references in his "vital signs" at the end of the story.

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