By Jenn Watt
Changes are coming to what is permitted at gravesites in Dysart et al as well as how interactions between cemetery visitors and site staff are handled following a video message posted on Facebook by Dulce Acero on June 13.
Acero was at the grave of her son Phoenix who died on May 14 2017 at age 14 when she was approached by groundskeeping workers who she said were rude and mean and told her she couldn’t leave photos on the gravesite.
“They basically assured me that if I plant any flowers or do anything for Phoenix’s birthday that they will cut them down or throw everything in the garbage” Acero said in the video recorded at the cemetery the same day as the incident.
She alleges they made fun of her and one worker gestured at her with the middle finger.
The online video was shared widely with hundreds of comments flooding in supporting Acero and criticizing both the Municipality of Dysart et al’s bylaw on what is permitted at the cemetery and how the workers who work for a groundskeeping company contracted by the municipality responded to her.
In an interview with the Echo following the incident Acero said she has had issues with workers at the Evergreen Cemetery in Haliburton over the past two years and she has complained to the municipality about it. She said that on June 13 one of the workers ridiculed an item on the headstone while picking it up and one of them pointed to the family name on the headstone and questioned whether she was local to the area.
Dysart et al Mayor Andrea Roberts said she spoke to the owner of Golf Green the company that maintains the property on the municipality’s behalf on the Monday following the incident and the owner of the company said he had spoken to the employees.
With no third party present during the confrontation at the cemetery Roberts said there are two versions of what happened.
“She [Acero] was there and they [the two workers] were there. And so we’re dealing with it as best we can. It does come down to he-said she-said” Roberts said.
The mayor noted the municipality has had a “good long-standing” relationship with the company for more than 25 years.
She did not provide any details on what the workers said happened or whether she knew if disciplinary action of any kind had taken place. A request for comment from Golf Green made by email and phone was not returned at time of publication.
Acero said decorating Phoenix’s grave is part of the grieving process for her as well as for friends and family. It’s also part of her Mexican heritage.
“For us the Mexican culture is so much about the cemetery. When someone passes away that’s just what you do. You decorate you go visit. You celebrate holidays there. You do Day of the Dead. They’re included in every single thing. And Phoenix is going to continue to be included in all of those things” she said.
She said that Phoenix had been particular about the way he looked and she was cognizant of that when she decorated making sure his space looked good.
“I understand they [the municipality] want to make the place look nice but at the same time you … shouldn’t be allowed to tell people how they can grieve” Acero said. “If somebody needs a photo at their wife’s headstone or their son’s headstone I don’t think the town should be able to tell you that you can’t do that.”
Dysart et al’s cemetery bylaw states that “all flowers must be potted and placed in headstone hangers; no person shall install solar lights plant trees flower beds or shrubs in the cemetery; [and] the erection of any border fence railing wall hedge or enclosure on in or around plots is prohibited.”
The bylaw’s intention is to ensure health and safety of maintenance staff when they’re cutting the grass and to keep the cemetery uniform.
Roberts said she spoke to Acero on the phone about the incident and subsequently posted an apology on the municipality’s Facebook page and has sent a written apology to her in the mail.
The Facebook post says the bylaw will be reviewed to allow for mementoes at gravesites using saddles of headstones and shepherd’s hooks for flowers. “We will also have customer service training and include sensitivity issues such as this as well we will endeavour to have better communication.”
Signage assisting family members in retrieving items that must be removed from gravesites for maintenance purposes is another addition Roberts said she would like to see.
She said sensitivity training should be provided to anyone interacting with those who have lost a loved one and that no one should be approaching a visitor to the cemetery to discuss potential bylaw infractions.
“There may be another way to contact that person at a later time and deal with that” she said.
Acero said she would like to see the rules change so that she can decorate Phoenix’s grave without worrying that items will be thrown out.
“Just leave me be. That’s all I want” she said. “… I’m not saying I’m ever going to get over this but I’m just trying to survive and maybe the situation won’t always be the same for the rest of my life maybe it will. But for right now I need to go and plant flowers for him. I need to have his pictures there. I need to be able to not be afraid that if Phoenix’s friends come and leave little mementoes that they won’t be thrown in the garbage because that’s what [has happened] before.”