Wait Time For Gravestones Has Improved Since Pandemic But Still Not Back To Normal

The pandemic throttled the gravestone industry, and a resulting backlog is improving, but families still sometimes wait months to get one. “Whether you’re shipping toys for Walmart or gravestones, it can be a challenge,” said one Wyoming funeral home owner.

August 24, 20235 min read

Rows and rows of headstones and monuments at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Cheyenne.
Rows and rows of headstones and monuments at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Cheyenne. (Greg Johnson, Cowboy State Daily)

Gravestones are families’ final memorials to those they’ve lost. For years after people die, it’s the gravestone people come to visit and remember. Waiting for an unmarked grave to get a gravestone surely adds a bit to the grief. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, supply chains were disrupted across the world for a number of products. For the gravestone industry, not only was demand rising because of deaths from the illness, but quarries were shutting down as part of lockdown measures. 

The businesses that etched and completed the monuments were also faced with lockdowns and supply chain issues. 

Gravestones were taking longer and longer to be delivered. 

Funeral homes and monument producers say the situation has gotten better, but things aren’t entirely back to normal. 

Sid Thompson, owner of Thompson Funeral Home and Cremation Services in Powell, told Cowboy State Daily that gravestones produced domestically are arriving almost as fast as they were from before the pandemic, but when the materials come from overseas, there’s still a longer wait. 

“Whether you’re shipping toys for Walmart or gravestones, it can be a challenge,” Thompson said. 

Six To Eight Weeks

Granite is the preferred material for gravestones today. The stone is cheaper than marble and more durable. It can take centuries for the elements to wear away its shape.  

Granite is cut out of quarries with pneumatic drills and water jets. It’s then polished and delivered to engravers, who etch the writing onto it. 

The pandemic brought natural stone production to a halt. While U.S. quarries are up and running again, labor shortages still plague nearly all industries. 

Rocky Ruzicka, partner with Black Hills Monument, told Cowboy State Daily that lead times on stones are still longer than they were before the pandemic. 

If the job requires the company to order from a quarry, it’s six to eight weeks before they receive it, Ruzicka said. 

“They’re still working to get back to normal. I would say it’s worse than normal, but they’re not as bad as they were,” he said. 

When it comes to the international market, Ruzicka said delivery times range from four to eight months. 

Granite comes in many types, so how long people have to wait can depend on what they order. There are tropical greens, a sea shell color, a Colorado red, barre gray and autumn mist — just to name a few. Each has different lead times. 

Ruzicka said a blue pearl comes out of Norway, and dark black granite materials come out of Africa, India and China. 

“There’s so many of them,” he said. 

Catching Up

Ross Gorman, owner of Gorman Funeral Homes and Monuments in Douglas, told Cowboy State Daily that things still aren’t quite back to normal. 

“There’s still a little lag, but it’s faster than it used to be,” Gorman said. 

He said during the pandemic lead times were about six months, and it’s down to about three months now, which is still a bit longer than before COVID. 

“They’re still catching up,” he said. 

He said internationally sourced stone takes much longer, and it varies widely depending on the stone. 

Thompson said that during the pandemic, in addition to quarries shutting down, trucking was also holding up deliveries. 

Today, he said it can take eight to 12 weeks to get a gravestone that’s produced in the U.S., but it’s five to six months for anything international. 

Rural Deliveries

Thompson said that one of their suppliers in Virginia ended up facing a lot of competition that stopped production for a while. A new factory was built that had better pay, and the headstone company’s workforce all quit at once to go work in the new factory. 

“All their guys left right at the tail end of COVID,” Thompson said. “They were really struggling to get their stones out, but all that’s gotten better.” 

The funeral home also contends with the same challenge that many Wyoming businesses face. In a rural territory, everything has to be shipped much farther. 

Thompson receives his gravestones from a company in Billings, Montana. And it doesn’t make economical sense for them to deliver a single gravestone all the way to Powell. 

So, sometimes they’ll wait until they have a few stones to deliver around the Big Horn Basin before they make the trip. 

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