A recent decision by a Kennewick cemetery to enforce a policy on grave decorations left some families fuming.
There aren't any bad actors in this dispute, only people trying to deal with a difficult situation.
Grief is personal. Everyone handles it differently. For some, leaving trinkets and favorite items at a grave is part of the process. It provides a level of comfort and a continued connection to loved ones.
We see it at accident scenes. A cross by the side of the road, decorated with teddy bears, flowers, soccer balls, balloons or anything else that survivors find meaningful.
The decorations often change with the holidays. Some roadside shrines are maintained for years, while others fade as the healing takes hold.
Children's graves have long been sites of elaborate decorations as families try to cope with the loss of a little one. Increasingly, the practice has spread to other graves.
Desert Lawn cemetery in Kennewick drew attention recently because it started to clamp down after a period of lax enforcement. Families that placed special items were understandably hurt and offended that mementos had been removed.
But many cemeteries have similar policies that only allow for flowers.
Buying a cemetery plot is a transaction like any other. Ideally, people would read the fine print and make certain their needs are met. The problem though, is that many folks are under duress when purchasing a plot, making the fine print the last thing on their minds.
Many cemeteries are run by businesses. Folks who choose to deal with the difficult issue of death on a daily basis are a special breed, and help families through the toughest of times.
The rules they put forth deserve to be respected.
In recent years, the topic has sparked controversy in communities across the country. In some cases it has been handled poorly, with items thrown in the trash by cemetery workers. Others take care to store and catalog the items for families.
At Desert Lawn, notices were posted that items not in compliance would be removed and those families with plots in the baby cemetery were sent letters.
Cemeteries have good reasons for allowing only flowers on graves. The upkeep and maintenance of a cemetery is a key responsibility of cemetery staff. Immaculate lawns and landscaping are required in a place that honors the dead.
Some cemeteries now allow only grave markers that are flush with the ground so lawn mowers can move right over them. Toys and other items left at markers can easily get blown into the path of one of those mowers, which could damage equipment or cause an injury.
It makes sense to limit what can be left in cemeteries, whether to prevent vandalism or to respect other families who would prefer more pristine and solemn grounds, without balloons and other distractions on neighboring graves.