Our Pilot’s Gravestone

Back in December, a friend of mine in the creative group I am in asked us all to share our favorite thing that we made in 2012. It has taken me a while to get around to editing the photos for this.. and also has taken me a while to finally feel ready to post these photos, but her prompt seemed to create the right setting in which to finally share this.

While this is not by any means my favorite thing I have made (in fact, more like my least favorite to have had to make), it is and will probably always be the most important thing I have ever had the honor of creating…. Andrew’s headstone at his grave site.

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Somehow in the midst of every horrible thing, this was one thing I found myself able to jump into action on. It gave me purpose. A mission to help use my skills to give honor to the man I love. While other designers might have shiny awards for the most significant things they have ever designed, I will have the knowledge that I helped to create something that will represent my best friend to everyone who loved him as they continue to visit it throughout their lifetimes. No better honor.

We chose the stone together, his family and I… the red granite with an unfinished, rough top edge seeming more rugged and fitting to his personality. There are an unbelievable amount of choices involved in designing a headstone I soon realized… as our heads were overflowed and overwhelmed with choice after choice of how to treat everything. Big stones, little stones, formal ones, black ones, gray ones, pink granite, red granite, black lettering, natural lettering… they can even do color photos printed onto stones now. It was daunting to say the least. We at least were able to pick the type and style of stone that day, leaving the rest to figure out soon. That is where I went to work…

Color photos was out. Drew was traditional and would not want a color photo of himself plastered on his gavestone. But he would want a helicopter. I searched for the perfect helicopter image to use. After hundreds and hundreds of photos and graphics, I ended up finding one of an R44 (one of the types of helicopters he flew) at an angle that looked like it was taking off into the sky. Perfect. I had my friend out in California – a fellow designer – create an outlined/graphic version of it (Thank you Betsy!). Then we picked out the poem and quote – the poem was something he had on his Facebook page and was sort of a code that he lived by as a pilot. The quote came from a helicopter forum he was on… a friend who had written in response to another pilot who recently had been lost. The quote read “His perpetual flight continues, now unconcerned with such earthly things as low rotor speed, torque limits, and settling with power.” It was just the sort of technical pilot jargon he’d have wanted.

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I sent it all off to the Memorial company, and his mom and my sister and I went in a few days later to see how they’d laid it out. I take one look at the computer screen and “Oh my God”…Floored! The proportions where all wrong! It looked chunky and not tasteful. No no no, this will not DO. I kindly announced that I’m a graphic designer and asked the man at the desk if he would step aside. This had to be done right. Not just right, MORE than right. Perfect. My man deserves nothing less than complete perfection. Fortunately, the man was happy to let me have the reigns, so I sat myself behind the desk and started to learn his graphics program and change everything around. We edited it into exact perfection… including adjusting the letter spacing between the letters of his name so they were exactly right and replacing all the commas because the ones in the original font looked chunky and girly. Yes, there is such a thing as a girly looking comma. And my man will NOT have girly commas on his gravestone! After more than 2 hours of tweaking every last detail and making sure that is was exactly honoring what his mom wanted, we were done. It was and always will be the single most important thing I have ever used my design skills for. Although it is not something that – at 29 years old – I should have ever had to do, it is one of the biggest honors of my life.

The poem I realize is a bit hard to read in the photos, but here is how it goes:

“Should me end come while I am in flight
Whether brightest day or darkest night
Spare me your pity and shrug off the pain
Secure in the knowledge that I’d do it again
For each of us is create to die
And within me I know, I was born to fly”

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I read it out loud every time I visit the cemetery now… these words have become a reminder not only to find peace and resolve about losing him, but also to live my own dreams as fiercely as he did… as I am learning to fly in my own way, with my own dreams. He reminds me each time I visit that I was born to fly too.

Thank you Suzanne, for prompting me to finally share this. <3