Dysart et al plans to examine its cemetery rules in response to a viral video calling out caretakers for alleged mistreatment of a grieving mother.
Dulce Acero posted a video from the Evergreen Cemetery June 13, in which she tearfully describes being confronted by two caretakers about items she and others were leaving on the grave of her son Phoenix Acero, who died in 2017. Acero said there was a heated confrontation about items not being allowed on graves. She accused the caretakers of rudeness, threatening to destroy items and flipping her off.
She posted the video on Facebook where she received an outpouring of support, with more than 700 shares and 37,000 views. Acero told The Highlander it came after years of dispute with caretakers. She alleges items placed on Phoenix’s grave were getting thrown out to allow for grass cutting, versus being set aside.
“It makes me feel really good when I come here and I see people have left him things,” Acero said. “People who want to bring personal mementoes to the cemetery should absolutely be able to.”
Mayor Andrea Roberts posted a public apology to Acero June 16. She said the township will review its bylaw and look for ways items can be placed at grave sites without interfering with maintenance and safety.
“I was shocked and saddened to see the video … I can’t begin to imagine her grief,” Roberts said.
Dysart’s cemetery bylaw does not disallow most items from being left at graves. Although the bylaw states the municipality is not liable for anything that happens to items outside of “gross negligence” on its part, there is no section that explicitly states mementos cannot be placed or that they will be removed. The bylaw only disallows non-potted plants, fencing and solar lights.
In contrast, cemetery bylaws such as those in the neighbouring Minden Hills explicitly state the township can regulate items which prevent cemetery operations, and they can be removed and disposed of without notification.
Roberts acknowledged it is an issue in the Dysart bylaw. She added items getting in the way of staff is a problem.
“While it may not be in the bylaw, there is just a certain standard of care to make sure they can do their work without hitting a photograph,” she said. “We also want to work with how we can safely place items in and around a headstone.”
Other concerned citizens have spoken out about similar experiences. Bob English said it was important for his family to bring mementos, like a treasured toy firetruck, to his son’s grave at the Evergreen cemetery to help remember him. But they stopped doing that after they were included as part of a mass removal of objects by staff several years ago, though they were able to retrive most of the items
English said his heart goes out to Acero. He added the need for limitations on items is understandable, but there should be more leeway.
“Items that could be placed upon or attached to the headstone should not interfere with groundskeeping,” English said. “There has to be some give to that policy that’s going to allow people to have mementos.”
Acero said she worked to ensure items were not getting in the way and even trimmed grass herself with scissors, though that is against the bylaw. She added people should be allowed a space near graves. She also said mementos at graves are part of her family’s Mexican culture, with the Day of the Dead celebrations in November.
“This has to be fixed. This can’t be a continuous argument for people who are trying to grieve,” Acero said, adding the caretakers involved should be fired.
The township contracts cemetery maintenance to Golf Green Enterprises. Roberts said those caretakers are not being fired but were spoken to, adding all staff need to have proper customer service training.
Only the contractor could fire one of its employees, not the township. Golf Green Enterprises did not respond to a request for comment.
Roberts said the company has worked with the township for more than 25 years and the incident is not worth ending that contract.
“We have a good rapport with the company. This is a very, very unfortunate thing that happened and we want to make sure on a go-forward basis that this doesn’t happen again,” Roberts said.
Acero said she appreciated an apology she received from Golf Green but felt it should be direct from the employees. She said she is unhappy about a conversation she had with Roberts and is not content with the public apology.
“This is where our loved ones are,” she said. “This is where our people are and you need to respect us.”