Losing a loved one is indescribable. And yet, sadly, inevitable. Throughout our lives, we say goodbye to grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles, friends and colleagues – to those who should have been blessed with longer, fuller lives.
Death is never easy for those left behind. And though we often take comfort in visiting our loved one’s final resting place, celebrating their life and remembering their kindnesses, this is not an option afforded to all; sometimes, thousands of miles separate us from their graves.
Consider the diaspora – the families who have moved abroad, and now live in the UK, in Australia, in South Africa and the States. And yet perhaps grandma is buried here, in Cyprus, in the village of long past summer holidays. Or think about the couples who moved to Cyprus for a peaceful sun-soaked retirement: a house in the hills overlooking blue horizons. But the unexpected happened, and now, one partner has returned alone to their homeland, leaving their loved one buried under Mediterranean skies.
This is a situation which happens time and time again: even before corona put a stop to ease of travel, families moved, and people left the island. And Limassol resident Louise Rance knows only too well the pain this can cause.
“In May 2016, I was tidying the grave – located in the central Paphos Cemetery – of a close friend, a man whose family had moved back to Britain. It was a labour of love for me,” she explains. “Due to age and health, his relatives were unable to return to Cyprus more than once a year, so the simple act of maintaining the place in which he was buried was a great solace to them.
“Each month, as I tidied his grave, clearing the overgrowth, cleaning the headstone, and bringing plants or flowers to his final resting place, I would look around the cemetery at other plots – plots which were unattended; in a bad state. Reading the names on the headstones, I could see that many of these graves belonged to foreigners, though some were of locals whose families, I assumed, were no longer in the country. And it occurred to me that I could offer these families a grave maintenance service which might bring great comfort.
“While similar services are common in the UK and the US,” says Louise, “to the best of my knowledge, no such service existed in Cyprus. So I decided to set up a Facebook page, offering grave maintenance services to those who could no longer provide the upkeep their loved ones’ graves required.”
Over the past four years, Louise has grown a small clientele in the Paphos and Limassol regions, consisting in the main of “foreigners who lived in Cyprus for a while and lost a spouse or family member and have returned to their home country, a few clients on the island with physical disabilities who are unable to attend to their loved one’s resting place, and the odd grave belonging to someone whose family has since moved overseas.”
But with the current restrictions in place, and travel becoming more of a challenge for many, Louise has now determined to take her services island-wide, under the name Grave Concern.
“It was a name suggested by my own mother,” she smiles. “I know a great many people who live abroad and are unable to tend to the graves of their departed here in Cyprus. Speaking to them, you realise this is often a source of great concern, hence the name. What I do,” she adds, “is help to alleviate that concern: bringing reassurance and setting people’s minds at ease.”
Grave Concern currently offers a number of services, and is now available all over the island. “We provide our services across the entire Republic of Cyprus,” says Louise, “offering a monthly maintenance service for those who can no longer tend to the graves of their departed. Our services include weeding, sweeping, raking, watering of plants, lighting of oil burners, as well as the cleaning and polishing of the headstone. We also offer a number of services for special occasions, such as birthdays, name days or anniversaries. And, if plants or flowers are requested, we liaise with our client to determine what is preferred, and buy from nearby suppliers to support local businesses.”
Keeping it in the family, Louise works closely with Lefteris, her 22-year-old son, to maintain and service each plot, spending between an hour-and-a-half and two hours on each plot, and ensuring that her clients are apprised of the work.
“One thing we always do,” she reveals, “is send photos of the restored plot to our client. It gives them such peace of mind to see a once-neglected grave now tidy and clean, well-cared for, and beautifully maintained. And in many ways,” she adds, “I think it brings great comfort to the client to know that their loved one is being remembered; the grave visited – even by someone who may not have known them in life.”
Although the island-wide service is still in its infancy, Louise has already noted an increased clientele, along with heart-warming feedback from her clients.
‘Excellent service,’ writes one comforted client based in Britain. ‘I would highly recommend Grave Concern. I live in the UK and have peace of mind knowing my brother’s grave is being looked after.’
Others appreciate the personal service, and the respect Louise and her son bring to the job, along with the knowledge that somebody on the island is there to care for the graves of their loved ones.
“Although we’ve just started this service island-wide,” says Louise, “we’ve had very positive comments, and that sort of feedback is all the proof we need that Grave Concern is much needed. It may be a small thing to tidy, maintain and care for graves, but it can make so much of a difference to people’s lives. Even my son and I have noted the sense of peace and calm we feel while working on each plot. And we both consider it a privilege to be entrusted with the care of the resting places of those who have gone before.”
For more information, visit the Facebook page ‘Grave Concern’, or call Louise and Lefteris directly on 00357 97 689062. Services start at €25 a month