City notice on graves sparks controversy

EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) -- More than 7,000 grave sites are taken care of by the city of Eau Claire. Now, decorations are creating problems for cemetery workers and visitors. But, those adornments have special meaning for the families, memorializing their loved ones.

A grave site is a personal place where family members who've lost a loved one can leave mementos to remember them by, but the city has rules and regulations on what you can and can't leave at a gravesite. Niki Anderson received a notice from the city and feels it may have been too strict.

Anderson says, "It was bothersome to me because this is special place where I go to memorialize my son so it felt a little insensitive to find this sign just saying that you can't put things here. As a mother, who's lost a child, this is one of the ways that I'm able to care for my son who's not with me and so it's important that I keep this nice space for him.”

Many received a notice regarding the adornments decorating grave sites at Lakeview and Forest Hill Cemetery. Superintendent Todd Chwala, with the city of Eau Claire, says the notices are meant to open the lines of communication between the plot owners and the city.

Chwala says, "What we are encouraging lot owners to do, is to stop in, make an appointment with us and make sure they receive a copy of our guidelines. And, to sit with folks and have them help us find a common ground where we can respect the grounds, keep them tasteful, orderly and neat. Also, not to have an impact on anyone's individual grieving process or their ability to honor their loved ones in unique ways."

Anderson says she understand rules need to be in place to maintain the cemetery grounds but says it's important for those who've lost loved ones to have a way to physically care for those who are no longer here. She says, “It's a place where people come to pay tribute and memorialize and it's sort of an act of love and kindness for them to leave things. I don't know if it's necessarily all the time for my sons, but it's also for me, to let me know that they care and that they remember and that's important to a parent who lost a child that people remember."

Chwala says in the future he hopes to be able to find a compromise that works for all. Chwala says, "We'd hope in a years time that we can make adjustments to the decorations and we will do what we can on our part to be able to modify the borders and the foundations of the markers to incorporate some of the decorations to eliminate some of the necessary removal."

Chwala also says the notices are out there just to have a conversation, the decorations aren't being removed. He says if there are any questions the grave manager is available for appointments.

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