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Families upset Tri-City cemetery is removing decorations

Katie McDaid can't understand why a Kennewick cemetery wants her to remove the decorations she has placed on her son's grave.

The grave has a bicycle, toys and trinkets -- things that remind the Richland woman and her 15-year-old daughter, Lace, of Riley, who died almost five years ago at 3 1/2 years old.

But cemetery officials recently decided to enforce an old rule about what could be placed on graves after getting multiple complaints about the clutter at Desert Lawn Memorial Park at Union and 10th streets.

The rule allows only flowers, fresh or artificial, in a nonbreakable vase, to be placed on grave markers. All other items are being removed by cemetery workers.

Cemetery managers sent advance letters to families who have loved ones buried in the baby section of the cemetery and put up several notices announcing the decision.

Having items around the graves makes cleanup difficult, especially after windstorms, and makes mowing potentially hazardous, said Sarah O'Donnell, Desert Lawn cemetery office manager. The problem became acute last year as more and more people began to put rocks, decorative items, solar lights and fences around the graves, and other families began to complain, she said.

Other area cemeteries already have similar policies that typically allow fresh-cut flowers during summer and artificial flowers in winter to be placed on grave markers.

Rosalie LaMear, family service director at City View Cemetery office in Pasco, said crews remove any other items left on graves in summer. During the nonmowing season, other items are left temporarily.

Sunset Memorial Gardens in Richland has a similar policy, said Patrick Hollick, general manager. From April through October, only fresh-cut flowers are allowed, while small mementos, rocks, potted plants and artificial flowers are allowed during winter.

Without such rules, it is difficult to maintain the cemetery and maintain safety, Hollick said. Maintenance crews remove items when they do cleanup, he said.

Kathryn Tate, who co-owns Columbia Memorial Funeral Chapel & Gardens in Pasco with her husband Anthony, said, "I tell people not to bring anything except flowers. We clear out other items when we mow."

She said the items are kept in the cemetery shop for people to retrieve, adding she has not had any major problems with the policy.

McDaid said she understands Desert Lawn's concerns, but she buried her child there because it was allowing mementos by graves.

McDaid, who gave birth to a girl on Sunday, said she has taken good care of the grave and the family visits it at least five times a week.

Nobody objected when she asked to put the bicycle on the grave, McDaid said, questioning why it's a problem now. "I'm not going to take (away) the stuff," she said.

For the last few days, her daughter Lace has stood guard by her brother's grave to make sure no one removes the stuff. "I'm prepared for an all-summer sit-in at the grave," she said.

Decorations already have been cleared from many of the graves.

Rachael Bennett of Kennewick said she was upset when she visited her mother's grave on Tuesday, the third anniversary of her death. She found a stained-glass butterfly wind chime and an angel that had been left on the grave were gone.

The grave didn't have a marker, Bennett said, explaining, "We were waiting until we could afford one. My mother was into butterflies."

The cemetery is placing items that have been removed in safekeeping. For information on recovering them, call the cemetery at 783-3181.

-- Pratik Joshi: 582-1541; pjoshi@tricityherald.com

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