(image credit William Archie/Detroit Free Press)
Holland, MI (written by Jeff Seidel/Detroit Free Press) -- Viv Miller sat on the ground, next to her husband's tombstone.
She grabbed her smartphone, scanned a code on an aluminum tag stuck to the memorial and a website popped up on her phone. She read through her husband's obituary, looked at his photo and signed a virtual guestbook, while sitting on the grass in Lakewood Cemetery in Holland, Mich., trying to hold back the tears.
"It was very emotional," Miller said. "My husband was sick for 11 years and it's been an emotional couple of months, obviously."
She said the interactive tombstone helped her grieve and made her feel closer to her husband, Steve Miller, who died March 9 at the age of 65 from mantle cell lymphoma.
Miller's interactive tombstone was made by Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Patten Monument, which is among a number of companies around the country to offer the technology. It uses Monumark Tag technology that can be affixed to any gravestone.
"It's a way to make cemeteries interactive and far more educational right now," said Andrew Bolt, president of Patten, which he said is producing about 7,000 headstones a year.
The service can also be accessed away from the cemetery. Friends and family can go to www.monumark.com and see precisely where the tombstone is located on a satellite image provided by Google Earth. The website also includes a photo of the tombstone.
Tim Lynch Jr., the funeral director at Lynch & Sons Funeral Home in Walled Lake, said he has sold a couple of the monuments. But the service is so new that those monuments aren't even designed yet.
"Personally, I think it's great; I love it," Lynch said. "I think it's unique. It kind of fits our Facebook generation. While it's not Facebook, it's kind of similar to it. I think it's great that a monument can now tell a story."
Stephanie Zafarana, Miller's 40-year-old daughter, has looked at the website a few times from a computer at her home in Dearborn, Mich. "I think it's pretty neat. All of my dad's brothers and sisters live in Ohio and they can virtually visit the grave site at any moment," Zafarana said.
The aluminum tag is about the size of a postage stamp. It is not carved into the tombstone. It sticks to a smooth surface.
The QR Code can be programmed to direct someone to any website. "If the family wanted it to go to the loved ones' Facebook page or the funeral home's link, it could be redirected to any website," Bolt said.
Bolt said the tag could be applied to existing headstones for $55 for five years of service. "It could be applied to historical memorials, like the Dodge Mausoleum in Detroit," Bolt said. "You could go, QR Code it, and read all about the Dodge family."
Bolt said the tags could be replaced easily if there is another kind of a reader system that becomes more popular in the future.
In some ways, this interactive service is the extension of a bigger trend -- baby boomers want to personalize their tombstones.
"If you go to old sections of a cemetery, from the 1910s or 1920s or older, you will see a lot of ornate, fancy bigger monuments," Bolt said. "When you get into the '50s, '60s and '70s, they become very homogenous, all a similar size and shape. Now, in the '90s and the 21st century, baby boomers want things to be very unique. They are very personalized."
Lynch said customer reaction has been mixed. "Those who are my generation, and I'm 37, and maybe my parents' generation, who are comfortable with computers, they seem to like it," Lynch said. "The folks who are in the 80s and 90s, I wouldn't say they are opposed to it, but they aren't as warm to it."
Lynch said the reaction was similar when his funeral home started a website.
"People were like, 'Why do you have a website? Why do you need to put our death notice on your website? Who will check it?' " he said. "And now, you wouldn't even consider doing business without a website. I think this is going to become the norm."