Gravestones offer the basic information about the deceased — name, date of birth, date of death and perhaps a Bible verse or poem. But a British company is now offering a way to bring memorials into the social-media age.

For about $580, Chester Pearce Associates, a funeral home in Dorset, England, will put a small plaque engraved with a quick-response matrix barcode on your gravestone. Anyone interested can “read” the code with a smartphone or tablet and call up a Web page with the person's biography, obituary, photos and even video, giving a richer look at the life of the deceased. Friends and family members can add their own tributes to the page.

Some funeral homes in America started a similar scheme last year. The idea behind the codes is simple. “It is about keeping the memory of someone alive,” says Stephen Nimmo, managing director Chester Pearce Associates. “This man or woman really did something — these are the people they knew, these are their family, this is where they went. You can learn a lot more about people than what you see on the stone.”

One of the funeral home's first customers was Gill Tuttiett, whose husband, Timothy, died from heart failure. “Tim was quite outward-going and game for anything,” she said. “I think this is the way forward and Tim would have wanted that, and it's making a process that's hard possibly easier.”

The codes can be added to existing memorials, allowing someone to visit George Orwell's grave, for instance, and get access to details of his life, works and ideas. They can also be added to historical buildings.

Q: What's your take on this use of technology? Is it indeed the way forward? Or should the markings on the grave stone, and the minister's funeral comments to gathered mourners, suffice?

The way forward, eh? Maybe so, and I suppose here is yet another instance of modern technology enabling us to do more. But down deep, I really don't care. And I suspect that after some initial excitement about what can be done with this new technology, there will be a gradual ho-hum factor kicking in.

Simply because we can do something doesn't mean we'll continue to do that something. I am certainly not opposed on religious grounds, nor do I think the dead are being exploited.

Also, I must confess that I do read tombstones if I'm in a cemetery, and I've even heard of a course that seminarians can take on the theology of what is written on 16th-, 17th- and 18th-century tombstones. So why not get more info if we want it, and want to pay for it? It might be interesting to learn if W.C. Fields really did say, “All in all, I'd really rather be in Philadelphia.”

The Rev. Skip Lindeman
La Cañada Congregational Church
La Cañada


I think it’s great. It honors and celebrates a life, and in the aftermath of death, the process of creating the page gives loved ones a concrete means of closure — something to actually do with their grief, and a catalyst for the tears that need to be cried. And I, for one, would be delighted not to have my graveside comments be the only way, the only time, a person’s life is summed up. (Can you say “pressure”?)

It also acts as a social leveler, so that we might see and hear the life stories not only of “famous people … who made a name for themselves and … were honored in their generations, the pride of their times,” but also the stories of those un-famous folks who lived good, steady, beautiful lives, “whose deeds should not be forgotten … and their glory never blotted out” (see Ben Sira 44:1-14). There’s something lovely about being able to walk along and visit George Orwell’s monument, and hear his famous story, and then at the very next grave, honor the full life of, say, a great-grandmother whose primary fame was the gazillion loaves of banana-nut bread she made every Christmas for her family and friends.

Of course, if this means of honoring someone who’s died becomes the norm, it might put pressure on families or bereaved spouses to come up with the perfect summation of their loved one’s life and character. I know that businesses already exist who will help you create that digital memory page — with, of course, escalating prices as you add more bells and whistles and slick professionalism. This could easily become just one more obligation and burden for grieving families, another component of the financial racket that weddings and funerals have become; but that’s another article.

In the meantime, the only downside is: I guess I have to figure out how to work that barcode scanner app on my phone. Sigh. Fine.

The Rev. Amy Pringle
St. George’s Episcopal Church