Families upset over removal of grave decorations

Teresa Griffith, right, and her son, William Griffith, talk Monday about flowers that were removed from their family’s burial site at Rose Hill Cemetery. Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com

Two days after she had placed an intricate heart-shaped wreath of white carnations on her late husband’s grave in Blackfoot, Ruth Adams returned to find it gone.

The wreath cost Adams and her daughter $200 to produce, aside from the emotional investment they had made in the display.

They placed it on the grave of Don Adams on May 24. He was a World War II Army veteran, who served in the Pacific Theater.

“We spent better than 25 hours making it, and it was stolen,” Ruth Adams said. “It’s just our way of showing our love to … my husband. We have been doing this for years.”

Adams had choice words for whoever took the wreath, which she and her daughter made by individually wrapping artificial flowers around a wire frame.

“I hope they fry in hell,” she said.

Adams reported the theft to police, but said she holds out little hope the wreath will be returned.

Teresa Griffith also knows what that feels like. Her mother, Mona Aerts, died two years ago. Beautifying the graves of her parents helped Griffith deal with her grief.

“This is my therapy,” she said. “They may be gone, but we still love them.… It really helps with the stress of grieving.”

Griffith built up a flower display over time. When she returned and saw the flower arrangements and other small personal items were missing from parents’ graves, she was heartbroken.

When Griffith made the discovery, she said she remembered thinking, “I’ve been robbed.”

Griffith later learned her decorations were removed by maintenance staff.

Jeff Baird, Rose Hill Cemetery sexton since 1987, said there are few problems with serious theft and vandalism at the cemetery where Griffith’s parents are buried.

“Once in a great while, you might get someone who drives their car across the lawn,” he said.

Crews lock local cemeteries at night to prevent theft and vandalism, said Greg Weitzel, director of the Division of Parks and Recreation.

Weitzel’s division oversees the graveyards.

When some decorations go missing, Baird said, there usually is a simpler explanation.

“Probably a lot of it is maintenance,” he said.

Perhaps the most maintenance work comes during the days following Memorial Day, Baird said, when lots of decorations must be gathered up.

“It’s just a maintenance issue,” he said. “You can hardly see the grass.”

But Griffith said maintenance crews shouldn’t remove as many decorations as they do.

“That’s cold,” she said.

Staff take measures to ensure families are notified before clean ups, Weitzel said, publishing notices in the newspaper and informing funeral directors of their policies.

“We try to be as professional as we can and treat each family with compassion during this difficult time,” he said.

Cemetery maintenance staff often must remove dead flowers, weathered ornaments and other decorations because they can leave the grounds looking untidy, Baird said, or can potentially damage maintenance equipment.

“There’s wires. It’s more of a hazard than anything,” he said.

Griffith said she confined her decorations to plants and other small items.

“I don’t want big, bulky things,” she said. “I just want to show some respect.”

Baird said maintenance crews at the area’s cemeteries do their best to be respectful of families’ grief.

“We hardly pick up any live (flowers) or decent ornaments,” he said.

It also is possible, he said, that children might move decorations or that they could be stolen in the night.

“You can’t patrol it 24/7,” he said.