My Memorial Journey

Real Estate Agent with Progressive Realty (Boise Idaho) DB-17066

Today is Memorial Day 2021.  It is a very interesting holiday in that we aren't celebrating a victory or any singular event.  It started as Decoration Day, in which we honored fallen soldiers from the Civil War.  Eventually it changed to be known as Memorial Day but holds the same purpose.  Many American families use this to go visit gravesites to "decorate" them with flowers, photos and memorabilia.  

Most people don't spend enough time dealing with the inevitable - our own mortality.  We are all going to die, so it is neither a blessing or a curse.  If is fact - of life.  How many of you have spent any time thinking about the memorial you will have when you die?

As witnessed by the cemeteries around our country, it is obvious that most people don't plan ahead for this end of life event.  Most memorial markers are simple plaques with person's name, birth date and the day they passed.  Some are a little more elaborate, but obviously were picked out of a catalog at a funeral home and customized with the personal details.

I admit that even though I knew my wife had terminal cancer, I was also guilty of having never giving any thought in advance about what to do regarding her memorial headstone.  When we went to the funeral home to make her final arrangements, I realized immediately that there was no way I was going to buy a catalog memorial for such a special person!

I tried to hire several local artists to help come up with something unique and special but nothing seemed appropriate.  I wanted something that elegantly told her life's story and had some symbolism - not just an engraved rock.

I started working on a theme.  One thing she enjoyed was traveling, especially to the ocean.  When ever we were close to a lighthouse, we would go visit and climb it if allowed.  Her favorite lighthouse was in St. Augustine, Florida.  I found a place that sold replicas that I thought about using for the memorial.


When it arrived, I loved it, but thought I still needed to do more. Another thing my wife loved was hiking up to the cross at Table Rock above Boise.  She would sit and overlooking the valley below and pray.  The night before she went in for surgery, she wanted to go up there, so we did.  A year later, we went up to celebrate with her and many friends. The night she passed, we went back again to pay tribute.  When I learned that the quarry at Table Rock was owned by Gerhard Barbonus Landscaping, I reached out to them to see if they could duplicate the lighthouse out of the sandstone from that quarry and they said they would be honored to. 

I still needed to work on the base as well to bring out the symbolism and meaning.  My wife used to say if she ever got a tattoo, it would be a butterfly.  When she started radiation treatments for her cancer 12 years ago, they gave her three small tattoo markers to triangulate the radiation.  We affectionately called those her butterfly poop tattoo.  Since a butterfly is a metaphor of spiritual rebirth, hope and change; I knew I found my first symbol.  She also was always mesmerized by dragonflies and had some custom painted dragonfly sweaters and jewelry.  When I learned that they were also a symbol of change, transformation and self realization and according to some cultures, teach us to rejoice and have faith even amidst difficulties, I knew I had found symbol #2. 


Then, since the memorial headstone will be for me too some day, I had pick something for myself.  We have had the opportunity to interact with a dolphin in Mexico; we kayaked with them in Florida; and even had a dolphin painting encounter in Florida; so a dolphin would be #3. 

I did some research and found that Rockitecture, LLC worked a lot with Gerhard Barbonus Landscaping and they could do the custom engraving for me.  I provided the graphics and let them do their job.

Then, I had to coordinate with Travis, who works with Dry Creek Cemetery, about how we time everything to have the grounds prepped, the memorial delivered, and then set in concrete.  Our plot was even selected with a purpose.  It is on the hillside above the Optimist Football Fields where our boys used to compete.  The section of the cemetery is called "The Willows" for the willow trees in that area.  We had a large willow in our back yard so that fit well too.  The exact location has an unobstructed view of the flag at the Veteran's Cemetery above it. 


Finally, everything came together in a monument that is worthy to stand sentinel over my wife (and someday myself).  The solar lighthouse will serve as a guide into the unknown that still lies ahead.  It has an LED bulb so it doesn't draw much power and stays lit throughout the night to help guard against darkness.  It stands nearly 6'6" because you should look up to a lighthouse, not down to it.

I am extremely pleased at how it turned out!  Thanks to everyone that helped create such a beautiful work of art to memorialize my wife's life!


Comments (28)

Jim Paulson
Progressive Realty (Boise Idaho) - Boise, ID

Here is a video tribute that I made for her Celebration of Life that we are still waiting to have due to the pandemic.

I suggest turning on the closed captions for the backstory of each photo. 

Paula's Footprints in the Sand Tribute video

Jun 01, 2021 06:59 AM
Wanda Kubat-Nerdin - Wanda Can!


Jun 01, 2021 07:09 AM
Debe Maxwell, CRS

What a wonderful video, Jim. ❤️

Jun 06, 2021 10:11 AM
Rocky Dickerson
Realty One Group - Las Vegas, NV
Superior Service!

Good morning Jim and thank you for sharing such a wonderful and touching story with us

Jun 01, 2021 08:34 AM
Jim Paulson

Good morning Rocky Dickerson I have been meaning to write that story and be able to tag the company that built the monument and the company that engraved it so this contest gave me the incentive to get it done.

Jun 01, 2021 08:46 AM
Roy Kelley
Retired - Gaithersburg, MD

Thank you very much for sharing this personal story.

Treasure your fond memories.

Jun 01, 2021 08:53 AM
Roy Kelley
Retired - Gaithersburg, MD

When I read the birth dates on the memorial, I felt very old. I finished law school in June, 1961.

Jun 01, 2021 08:56 AM
Jim Paulson

Congrats on having my name on this type of memorial instead of yours! June 1961 was a great month for both of us!

Jun 01, 2021 02:44 PM
Anna Banana Kruchten CRS, Phoenix Broker
HomeSmart Real Estate BR030809000 - Phoenix, AZ

Jim what a story and what a beautiful tribute to your wife!  I love it.  I have never heard a story quite like this before, as in ever.  We did do something special for my Mom and Dad (not a headstone) but rather a beautiful granite bench over looking a valley in the cemetary. People can sit, relax, pray and take in the beauty of the cemetary.

Jun 01, 2021 03:04 PM
Jim Paulson

I like the benches as well.  They let you take a load off and rest before it is time for your final resting place.

Jun 03, 2021 11:57 AM
Kathy Streib
Cypress, TX
Retired Home Stager/Redesign

Hi Jim- I am in awe of your story. The thought that you put into the headstone or rather the monument shows your love for her as well as how well you knew her.  

Jun 01, 2021 06:22 PM
Jim Paulson

Thank you.  It helped me with the healing process as well.  I have never been one to go visit cemeteries except for Memorial Weekend, but admit I go there fairly often and decompress.

Jun 03, 2021 12:01 PM
Kathy Streib
Cypress, TX
Retired Home Stager/Redesign

Jun 05, 2021 06:54 PM
Jim Paulson

Thank you Kathy, I appreciate the Feature (and you).

Jun 06, 2021 05:31 AM
Cindy Edwards
RE/MAX Checkmate - Johnson City, TN
CRS, GRI, PMN - Northeast Tennessee - 423-677-6677

I love this.  I can relate, I went through somewhat of the same thing when my husband passed of terminal cancer.  I ended up with a sundial where there are 3 chambers for ashes.  I have it in my garden.  It is a piece of art and able to travel to whatever home I am living in.  My hope is that my daughter will treasure it in the future.  Final resting place for her parents.

Jun 06, 2021 04:23 AM
Jim Paulson

My condolences.  #CancerSucks

I love the Sundial idea!  They are doing some amazing things with the ashes these days and it still ends up being much cheaper and more functional than a casket.

Jun 06, 2021 05:33 AM
faye schubert
Branson, MO
Living the Branson Lake Life

Such a tremendous story of  love and living life and all the joy a person can bring to those around them.  The simple things are so important: a dragonfly, a lighthouse,etc that bring joy to someone and share it with others. Your story is so touching and personal. Thank  you!

Jun 06, 2021 05:04 AM
Jim Paulson

Thank you for your kind words.  My wife was my bright light so thanks to a solar powered LED light, she will remain that way.  Most people only saw her strength, which is why I felt compelled to do the video tribute noted above complete with captions showing her faith and telling the other side of the story.

Jun 06, 2021 05:38 AM
Wayne Martin
Wayne M Martin - Chicago, IL
Real Estate Broker - Retired

Good morning Jim. You certainly deserve credit for the amount of thought you gave to the monument. Many will learn from your journey to get it done. Thank you! Enjoy your day.

Jun 06, 2021 05:07 AM
Jim Paulson

Thank you Wayne Martin I was healing for me as well to process through the options.

Jun 06, 2021 05:41 AM
Grant Schneider
Performance Development Strategies - Armonk, NY
Your Coach Helping You Create Successful Outcomes

Good morning Jim - thank you for sharing your very touching story.  A wonderful tribute to your wife.

Jun 06, 2021 05:22 AM
Jim Paulson

Good morning Grant Schneider I appreciate you taking the time to read it.  Reading your slogan, "Your coach helping you create successful outcomes", makes me feel her life was a success.  She touched and inspired a lot of people. 

Jun 06, 2021 05:46 AM
Patricia Feager, MBA, CRS, GRI,MRP
Selling Homes Changing Lives

Jim Paulson

I know how difficult this journey was for you and your beautiful wife. I'm glad you had an opportunity to write your story and show us the beautiful monument you created in your wife's memory. For many people, it's hard to understand. Believe me. I understand. My husband and I were given 24-hours or less to plan his funeral and we began our journey right after we left the hospital. The one thing that always bothered me was the tombstone he was entitled to from the Veterans of Foreign Wars. It just didn't justify his presence on earth and always felt shallow, cold, and unfinished. On the other hand, you had an opportunity to design and create something beautiful in her memory about the life the two of you enjoyed. Your photos were lovely and you put a lot of thought into writing. I know, you cried when you wrote this essay. You honored her well.


Jim, your story was so touching and beautiful. It tells a lot about who you are, thoughtful, kind, compassionate, and a loving husband. So many women are not blessed to have a spouse like you. It's expected to do the easy things in life and so much harder to do what you did. Your courage for writing this and submitting this entry for ActiveRain is greatly appreciated.


It is unlikely anyone who reads your story will forget. You are an inspiration and a light that burns brightly. The solar light with the LED bulb on top of the Lighthouse was brilliant! "To help guard against the darkness," was deeply felt with compassion. February 20, 2020, was just a few tears drops away and I know your sorrow and the love you felt for each other does live on forever. Peace be with you.  

Jun 06, 2021 05:45 AM
Jim Paulson

Patricia Feager, MBA, CRS, GRI,MRP thank you so much for the kind words.  Creating the theme behind the monument was in fact a labor of love.  We can FINALLY have a fitting Celebration of Life for her since her original one was cancelled due to the pandemic.  Since I think outside the box, it won't be a traditional service either.  We are going to celebrate her life and her memories at a live concert with her favorite local band at a winery with great views on September 5th.

I appreciate your husbands service in the military!  I was bounced around this earth since I was an embryo including a few war zones myself.

Jun 06, 2021 07:06 AM
Patricia Feager, MBA, CRS, GRI,MRP

Jim Paulson - You championed Paula in life and death. Your video with music playing Footprints in the Sand and her Celebration of Life with live concert and her favorite local band at a winery on September 5th is a fitting way to spread love and cheer throughout the community with Paula looking down and loving you from up above.  Jim, you embody the spirit and the art of living fully with "spiritual rebirth, hope, and change."

Jun 06, 2021 12:39 PM
Patricia Feager, MBA, CRS, GRI,MRP
Selling Homes Changing Lives

Jim Paulson - I just finished watching your video. This is the most beautiful and meaningful tribute created for your wife. It's better than any Hallmark movie and you Celebrated her life with love and dignity in the most honorable way. 


Jim Paulson
Progressive Realty (Boise Idaho) - Boise, ID

Here is a video tribute that I made for her Celebration of Life that we are still waiting to have due to the pandemic.

I suggest turning on the closed captions for the backstory of each photo. 

Paula's Footprints in the Sand Tribute vide

Jun 06, 2021 05:57 AM
Jim Paulson

Thanks for taking the time to watch it and for the feedback!

I had always loved the poem "Footprints in the Sand" and had never heard the song until the day I made that video.  Leona Lewis did a brilliant job singing it!

I felt compelled to show the darker side of my wife's cancer journey and illustrate that it was her faith and compassion that carried her forward.

When I heard that song, I immediately went to my computer, looked up the original music video and then started creating my tribute video.  I started sorting through photos and putting it together and about four hours later, I published it.

Jun 06, 2021 07:13 AM
Debe Maxwell, CRS | The Maxwell House Group | RE/MAX Executive | (704) 491-3310 - Charlotte, NC
The right Charlotte REALTOR!

What an absolutely beautiful story, Jim. I love that you helped facilitate LIVING for her, as she fought Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. She had a partner in life that everyone deserves but, so few are blessed to have. 


The 6'6" lighthouse is absolutely PERFECT. I am surprised that you were able to erect something that tall there but, boy, it could not have been more perfect for the beautiful life Paula lived. What detail you tended to, Jim. ❤️

Jun 06, 2021 10:20 AM
Jim Paulson

Thank you Debe Maxwell, CRS Ironically, the first lighthouse I bought to use came out of North Carolina, but I wanted something more durable.

Certain parts of the cemetery allow different things (i.e. some have to be at ground level, etc.)  I had to get it approved in advance since it was different.  They love it too.

We will finally have her celebration of life on September 05 but that is a story for another blog.

Jul 02, 2021 12:16 PM
Dorie Dillard Austin TX
Coldwell Banker Realty ~ 512.750.6899 - Austin, TX
NW Austin ~ Canyon Creek and Spicewood/Balcones

Good morning Jim Paulson,

I loved your post and story..what a wonderful tribute to your wife, so beautiful and thoughtful. Your design was perfectly executed.

Jun 06, 2021 10:53 AM
Jim Paulson

Thanks Dorie Dillard Austin TX I broke a few traditions but all for the right reasons.  For example, typically the man is on the left as you look at the double plots but her spot is numbered #1 on that row and mine is #2.  For the rest of eternity, she will have my #1 spot. 

Jul 02, 2021 12:19 PM
Pat Starnes-Front Gate Realty
Front Gate Real Estate - Brandon, MS
601-991-2900 Office; 601-278-4513 Cell

Jim, the monument is beautiful. The thought you put into designing it is a tribute to the love you have for your wife. My condolences on your loss. What a thoughtful tribute.

Jun 06, 2021 03:47 PM
Jim Paulson

Thank you Pat Starnes-Front Gate Realty My wife was very special so deserved much more than just a typical grave marker.  They did an excellent job creating my vision for me.

Jul 02, 2021 12:21 PM
Ed Silva
Mapleridge Realty, CT 203-206-0754 - Waterbury, CT
Central CT Real Estate Broker Serving all equally

No way to describe it other than a mission of Love and you excelled with your efforts. It will get attention for years

Jun 06, 2021 04:44 PM
Jim Paulson

Thanks Ed Silva At age 60, I still don't have any tattoos, yet am thinking about getting that same lighthouse done on each arm.  One will be upright and the other upside down.  That way, I will have guidance coming and going for the rest of my life as well.

Jul 02, 2021 12:23 PM
Laura Cerrano
Feng Shui Manhattan Long Island - Locust Valley, NY
Certified Feng Shui Expert, Speaker & Researcher

There's a  certain vulnerability to be absolutely  truthful about how you feel. I really like it

Jun 07, 2021 09:10 PM
Jim Paulson

Very true Laura Cerrano However, when we realize we are vulnerable and accept it, not fear it, life is easier. Thank you!

Jul 02, 2021 12:24 PM
Laura Cerrano
Feng Shui Manhattan Long Island - Locust Valley, NY
Certified Feng Shui Expert, Speaker & Researcher

A labor of love and it's  all that and more for me and I really thank you for your vulnerability, and once again. :)

Jun 07, 2021 09:13 PM
Number Cruncher LLC - Overton, NV
Helping Taxpayers Resolve IRS problems

Beautiful blog.  My family isn't big on visiting graves so I haven't given much thought to a headstone because I don't think anyone will visit the grave.  But this is making me think again.

Thank you for sharing.  

Jun 09, 2021 05:19 PM
Jim Paulson

Thank you CANDACE (Candy) STEVENS, EA I was shocked when my wife changed her mind at the end and asked to be buried instead of cremated. She wanted a place our kids and grandkids could go if needed.  It turns out, I needed it too.

I have gone out several times in the evening and hung out until the solar light comes on.

Jul 02, 2021 12:28 PM