"The best feeling" . . . Gemma Fairbairn started up her business, Forever Loved Grave Care, in November last year. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

A throwaway comment made by Gemma Fairbairn’s father has led her down an unlikely path.

Growing up in Dunedin, Mrs Fairbairn used to walk through the Andersons Bay Cemetery with her family to visit her grandmother’s grave. During one visit, her father, Steve Van Zoomeren, noticed some headstones looking rundown.

‘‘Dad one day said, ‘You know, someone needs to start a business cleaning these up and relettering them’ — it’s always stuck with me,’’ Mrs Fairbairn said.

Later in life, Mrs Fairbairn, who now lives near Palmerston, visited the cemetery with her parents and her children, Macey (5) and Fergus (3), and she remembered her father’s comment.

‘‘I thought, ‘You know what, I think I want to do this’.’’

Six years ago, she started cleaning family members’ graves and researching grave-cleaning services online, and teaching herself through trial and error.

After feeling confident in her craft, Mrs Fairbairn started her business, Forever Loved Grave Care, in November last year.

She launched a Facebook page and started promoting her services online, but instead of getting support, she received some abuse, and ‘‘not much came from it’’. As a result, she thought she would let the venture ‘‘slowly die out’’, even though she still believed in it.

‘‘A few times I’d go to have a go again, but I’d chicken out because you take that abuse personally.’’

This year, she decided to start posting online again, and the response had been overwhelmingly different, with many supportive people reaching out for her help.

After working on graves in Dunedin, East Otago and Oamaru, she has started to field calls from as far away as Invercargill, Millers Flat and Temuka.

Her work was not about making money from people’s pain and grief, it was being able to provide something ‘‘super special’’ and caring for their family members’ honour, she said.

Mrs Fairbairn’s services ranged from cleaning plaques and headstones, to re-lettering, monthly maintenance, weeding and planting flowers at request. She removed the ‘‘horrible moss’’ usually covering headstones, and loved re-lettering as it made a massive difference.

Her work was ‘‘extremely humbling’’ and people had been blown away by the change to their loved ones’ headstones.

‘‘I don’t know how to describe it, it’s just the best feeling.

‘‘It’s extremely satisfying. You go to bed tonight and you think ‘I did something’.’’

It also helped people know their loved ones were being looked after, when they struggled to visit their resting place.

Through helping others, Mrs Fairbairn was also helping herself. She wanted to be a role model for her children and, while her work might not be ‘‘changing the world’’, it still had a positive influence on someone’s life.

‘‘It’s changed me and grown me too. There’s just nothing better than what I do.’’

Before starting her business, Mrs Fairbairn worked as a service technician, and in administration, at a Dunedin car dealership. Her husband, Jerry, works at OceanaGold Macraes.

As her children were now at preschool and primary school, Mrs Fairbairn had a ‘‘bit of freedom’’ and was ready to focus on her business.