When Township of Langley staff cleared the Langley Lawn municipal cemetery of unapproved decorations, an urn with the ashes of Rebecca Forster’s friend ended up in a pile of discarded items left by the gate to the cemetery works yard.
“It was my best friend’s cremation ashes in a small sealed urn and a picture of him at his mom’s grave site,” Forster told the Langley Advance Times.
“He passed away May 18th last year and we always went to his mothers grave together when he was in town.”
Forster was “saddened and angry” when she recently arrived at the cemetery, located at 4393 208th St. in Brookswood, to find the urn was gone.
She searched through the pile, and was able to retrieve her friend’s ashes.
Forster is one of several upset and disturbed by the Township decision to clear all three municipal cemeteries.
Many have complained that the addition of personal keepsakes to gravesites has been going on for 10 to 15 years at Langley Lawn without any of the items being touched.
Henry Yu, who lost his eight-year-old son Winston almost 18 years ago, described the Langley Lawn cemetery where his son lies as “a sacred space to us” and called the decision to remove the memorabilia as “a cold and despicable act.”
“I struggle to understand the thought process the Township underwent to arrive at such a heartless decision,” Yu commented.
“The ornaments and items left there represented our messages of thoughts and love expressed to our loved ones since they were no longer with us. I smiled when I saw others’ items when I visited the graves around my son. I cried when I felt a connection to others who also experienced the same sense of loss. Those expressions of love connected all of us and were a source of comfort.”
Robbie Franks, who took to social media to alert families after discovering his brother’s site had been cleared of several items on Friday, May 20, including a cross and chain left by his sister, called it “heartless.”
Franks said he initially thought thieves had struck.
“When I started looking around, I realized everything was missing.”
Franks finally found the pile, and was able to locate most of the adornments, except the chain and cross.
His father, Jerry Franks, was angry.
“They should have notified everybody by mail.” Jerry suggested.
“They’ve got to have a better way of doing things. It’s just not right.”
Jerry’s wife, Cindy, said there should have been more notice than a “dinky little sign” by the parking area.
In response to a Langley Advance Times query, the Township issued an unsigned statement that said the family mementos were removed from all three cemeteries operated by the Township – Langley Lawn, Murrayville and Fort Langley – because “a significant number of flowers, adornments, and decorations had accumulated over time, including several broken or deteriorated items, posing an increasingly challenging and unsafe condition for maintenance staff and the public.”
A recently erected sign next to the cemetery parking area did not specifically refer to memorabilia, but “removal of artificial flowers and wreaths.”
It said “in an attempt to maintain a park-like setting in our cemeteries, only wreaths and flowers (fresh or artificial can be placed on graves. Artificial flowers and wreaths will be removed between March 1 and November 1 at Township discretion. All additional items will be removed and held for one month.
Neighbouring municipalities have similar restrictions.
In Surrey, what is referred to as “plant material and grave adornments” associated with seasonal events or celebrations are to be removed 30 days after the event by the caretaker.
From the first of March to November first, Surrey regulations forbid grave ornaments, potted plants and memorabilia on graves. Fencing around lots, glass, candles and ceramic objects are not permitted.
In Abbotsford, graveside decorations are limited to “cut or artificial flowers and wreaths [which] may be placed on a lot.” Cemetery staff will remove them “when their condition deteriorates.” Metal or plastic vases are the only materials permitted. Any other materials deemed breakable or hazardous will be removed.
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