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N.S. families shocked after decorations removed from graves of loved ones

Click to play video: 'Frustration after sentimental items moved in N.S. cemetery'
Frustration after sentimental items moved in N.S. cemetery
Several family members of people buried in a Nova Scotia graveyard are heartbroken after finding bushes cuts down, flowers dug up, and sentimental items removed from their loved ones' final resting places. As Zack Power reports, the cemetery committee says maintenance can be challenging when dealing with flowers and grave markers at the site – but it's not clear what that means for the future – May 9, 2024

Several family members of people buried in a Nova Scotia graveyard are heartbroken after finding bushes cut down, flowers dug up, and sentimental items removed from their loved ones’ final resting places.

They said they had no idea about the cleanup at the Gaspereau Cemetery until after it happened.

Maggie Kalkman, whose grandparents are buried at the cemetery, lost her daughter to a miscarriage in 2017. The infant was buried with Kalkman’s grandmother, and a small stone marker was placed on the site in 2018.

Kalkman was shocked when her boyfriend found a post on Facebook in late April, showing pictures of various grave decorations that were removed from the plots, including her daughter’s grave marker.

“I couldn’t believe they moved it,” she said. “All I could see was it laying up against the shed and I just – it was hard.”

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A stone marker honouring Maggie Kalkman’s daughter was removed from her grave without Kalkman’s knowledge. Submitted

She managed to rescue the stone before it got thrown away, but she’s still angry that it was moved. Kalkman said it reminded her of the painful day her daughter died.

“When I found this out, it triggered that day that I lost her … for two weeks now, it’s all I can think about,” she said. “I try not to, but her stone’s now in my apartment so I walk past it every day when it’s supposed to be up here. … This was the only spot I had to come and be with her.”

She said her uncle reached out to the people who maintain the graveyard and was told they could put the grave marker back, but she’s hanging on to it for now.

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“I am too scared to put it back because I am scared they’re going to remove it again,” Kalkman said.

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It’s a similar story for Rebecca Crisp. She also found out through Facebook – rather than from the committee that maintains the graveyard – that the daffodils the family had planted at her brother’s resting place had been ripped out.

Her brother passed away very suddenly in the fall, and the flowers were supposed to be a “cute symbol” of her brother’s toddlerhood.

“When he was very little, he would go down to the end of the garden, take the daffodils, and eat them,” she recalled with a smile.

“We planted the daffodils so that they would bloom on his birthday. And we never saw them bloom.”

Rebecca Crisp says the daffodils her family planted for her brother, who died in the fall, were dug up. Zack Power/Global News

She, like Kalkman, said she received no communication about the “invasive” removal of her brother’s flowers.

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“People are entitled to their way of grieving, and that was taken away by someone else’s decision,” she said. “It’s a very personal thing, how to grieve, and that was stripped away from so many people here.”

Jack Joudrey, a member of the committee that maintains the cemetery, told Global News that the decorations were removed because groundskeepers were having difficulty maintaining the graveyard in its current state.

“With the mowing and the whippersnipping and the raking of leaves and so forth, it becomes very cumbersome, and actually not safe for the contractor that does it,” he said.

Joudrey said the committee issued notices in the local paper and put up posters in the community before the cleanup happened.

He also said that some families were contacted directly, but they couldn’t do that with everybody due to the sheer number of graves, some dating back centuries.

“We did our best to try to communicate that it was going to take effect,” he said, adding that the committee was also contacted by families who are pleased with how the cemetery looks.

‘Anger and upset people’

But Melissa Eye, whose family lost a sentimental item in the cleanup process, said the communication was insufficient.

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She said she doesn’t live in the community so she did not see the notices about the cleanup. It also was not advertised on social media.

“It’s just sacred ground. You don’t come in here and disrupt it and disrespect it like it was,” she said.

Eye’s in-laws are buried in the cemetery, and a glass top on her mother-in-law’s plot was destroyed during the cleanup.

She explained that her mother-in-law had bought it to put on her husband’s grave, but she didn’t get around to it before she died in August.

“We found it in her home and put it up in memory of her and in honour of his dad, and it’s now broken,” said Eye.

“Like my husband said, it could be replaced, but it’s not the same. It was something she bought, and now she’s gone. So it’s not really replaceable in the same sense.”

Melissa Eye says an irreplaceable glass top bought by her late mother-in-law was destroyed in the cleanup. Zack Power/Global News

She said she’s spoken with multiple other families whose sentimental items were moved or destroyed in the cleanup, including war veterans’ crosses that were thrown away.

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“It was just a lot of anger and upset people,” she said.

Joudrey acknowledged that communication could have been better, and said the committee is looking into improving their communications to better keep families informed of what’s going on in the cemetery.

“Communication’s the biggest issue and the hardest one to address,” he said.

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