UTAH (ABC4) – A Utah woman found a unique way to work through her grief and in the process started a business, Headstone Hero, to help others through their loss. An added twist? When covering the story, ABC4’s own Tracy Smith discovered a connection that solved a half-century-old family mystery.
When Jackie Stevens lost her grandparents, she continued to visit their grave sites to grieve and spend time with them. She noticed over time the headstones began looking old, grungy, and overgrown.
To preserve their memory, she began cleaning the headstones.
“It’s just been very near and dear to my heart to keep grandpa’s clean. He’s been gone since 2006. It keeps the memory of him alive as well as his service and what he did for our country,” Stevens told ABC4. “Grandma was like my best friend. She was more than a mom to me. So when she got buried here next to Grandpa, I couldn’t bear not having coffee with her. So I would come up and bring her coffee and continue to clean her headstone as well as Grandpa’s.”
When people started taking notice of Steven’s hard work they began asking her questions. Cemetery visitors would ask how she kept the headstones so clean and if she would be willing to clean the headstones of their relatives as well.
Together with her kid’s father – who passed away in April earlier this year – Stevens started a side job, a hobby, cleaning headstones. The side job has taken Stevens to cemeteries across the western United States including Oregon, Colorado, Nevada and all across Utah, cleaning headstones.
“It’s very therapeutic for me and I like transforming them and keeping the headstones looking nice so people can read them,” Stevens said. “I’ve really enjoyed keeping them clean and honoring the loved ones for what they did for us while they were here.”
Stevens’s work and story led ABC4’s Tracy Smith to her. While working together, the two discovered the story had a more personal connection for Smith.
Stevens was called to the Magna Cemetary to clean a pair of headstones. She was told by the client that under some nearby bushes, they believed there may be another headstone from the early 1900s.
When she was showing Smith the photos, he realized the headstones belonged to his family.
“I had no idea the story would take such a turn,” Smith said. “My brother worked up here with my grandfather and they only knew the headstone was missing.”
Stevens did end up uncovering the headstone belonging to a one-month-old infant who had passed away in 1908. She brought it up from the ground and cleaned it for the Smith family.
“It was so breathtaking and so humbling to be able to bring that stone up,” Stevens told ABC4. “They can now come and mourn the child. The whole family from years and decades and generations to come. The headstone is back up where it belongs.”
“This might be worth a favorite story of the year because who gets to do a story and wind up having it touching their family?” Smith concluded with a smile.
You can learn more about Jackie Stevens and Headstone Hero by visiting her business’ Facebook page.