Last year, Ves Vukovic found out a good friend of his was dead.
To make matters worse, although his Serbian buddy was buried in Surrey, Vukovic couldn’t find where he was laid to rest.
After a lengthy hunt, Vukovic eventually found his friend’s grave, only to see that it had no marker.
Vukovic said his grief was compounded by the discovery his friend was buried with such anonymity. So he went to work on a nice piece of granite to create a headstone.
It was a year later when Anita Briscoe’s older brother Jason died of cancer at the age of 46.
Because of another illness, Jason had been collecting disability income, and was buried by the provincial government under a new program for people in need.
In September, Briscoe found out her brother was buried without a grave marker.
“It made me feel my promise to him wasn’t complete,” said Briscoe, who arranged for a Catholic mass in Vancouver. She had vowed to give him a proper burial.
“(The grave) was still not marked, it was basically grass,” she said .
The family couldn’t begin closure on his loss until the matter was resolved, so Briscoe was determined to work extra shifts in order to save the money for a marker.
“At this point, you’re exhausted,” Briscoe said, adding the two-and-a-half years dealing with her brother’s cancer, arranging for services, and taking care of bills as they trickled in was just about all she could bear.
Then City of Surrey Cemetery Services Manager Anna Terrace called Briscoe (left, with her brother’s new headstone), and said the city and a private contractor were launching a program to install grave markers for free.
That program became possible through Vukovic, who is providing the markers to the city at no cost.
“He deserves his name,” Vukovic said in an interview Monday. “Every person deserves to be perpetuated.”
He later realized there were hundreds of people in the city buried in similar fashion because their loved ones couldn’t afford a gravestone.
As a professional carver, Vukovic decided to help rectify that.
“This is how I can really express myself in the community,” said Vukovic, who estimates he’ll carve about 15 a year.
It takes about four hours to make each stone.
While he’s taking care of the cost of the markers moving forward, Vukovic is unable to provide stones for existing unmarked graves in Surrey.
So the city is also launching a second program to solicit community donations to enable the manufacture of memorial markers for the 350 unmarked graves currently in Surrey’s three civic cemeteries.
This program is expected to launch that fund raising drive in early 2014