COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho -- Local families say they were devastated when they went to visit the gravesite of loved ones only to find memorials and personal mementos removed and tossed into piles.
"Everything was gone," said Jill Monroe.
Jill's two sons are buried at Coeur D'Alene Memorial Gardens Cemetery. Both her adult children died suddenly, leaving all eight of her grandchildren without a father.
"We only had only two children, both died unexpectedly," she said. "One died in late 2013. He died of Leukemia. We only knew for about a month. He was in the hospital 10 days and he died. He had four kids. They were little. It helped us to go to a cemetery. We did what we could to help them adjust."
Then, a year and a half later, the family was consumed with unimaginable grief again.
"Eighteen months later, our other son died of a cardiac arrest while he was pitching to his eight-year-old during a baseball game," Jill said.
The family has suffered so much loss in recent years. Visiting both gravesites helped ease the pain. That's why Jill says what she saw on a recent visit was so troubling.
"I took a drive around the cemetery and found back by the dumpsters, a big pile of stuff," she said.
That stuff, she knows first-hand, included precious and personal family memories.
"There were American flags, there were stuffed animals, pictures of children, beautiful flowers," Jill said.
Jill posted about it on social media and it has since been shared dozens of times. She learned the cemetery did try to alert families about the 'clean-up' with their own social media post. One she didn't see, and fears the same for other families with loved ones buried there.
That's why she spoke with our Help Me Hayley.
Memorial Gardens wrote on Facebook that families have until mid-October to pick up items that had been removed from graves for a 'Winter Clean-Up.'
"I just want to make sure they know," she said during her interview with Hayley. "Really, they have one more week, they gave them two weeks to pick up their items."
Jill notified the cemetery about her interview with 'Help Me Hayley.' She told KHQ, 'the cemetery has since picked up all flags from the ground.' She said she was also told families could collect their property and put it back on the graves, if they wish. She said cemetery staff told her they are using this unfortunate incident as a 'learning experience for new management' and 'effective immediately, they are going back to how everything was run before.'
Jill says she is hopeful this ordeal has been made right and will never happen again. She says the cemetery is a very special place to not only her, but her grandchildren as well.
"We know where their dad is, we know he's not there, but when you have little kids, it's things like that, that helps them adjust," she said.
KHQ spoke with cemetery employees who confirm, families are now able to leave belongings on gravesites until November 11th. If they are unable to remove items prior to that date, cemetery staff will do it for them and hold it for pick-up in a secure place. They are asking families to tend to vases as soon as to prevent damage when it freezes. Staff say they learned from this experience and will never handle the winter clean-up process this way again.
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