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Family mourning son's suicide 'devastated' by cemetery rules

Zoe Greszler • Updated Jun 12, 2016 at 3:14 PM

Bob and Sonja Kay Perry experienced what no parent should have to — the loss of their son.

To make matters worse, Bob was the one to find his son, Craig, in his apartment in April 27, 2011. Craig had committed suicide, leaving behind a young family.

Though the incident happened five years ago, the Perrys said the pain is still fresh.

One way they have found that helps in coping is visiting their son where he is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery. The Perrys also opted to purchase two conjoining lots next to Craig for themselves when they too pass.

In the meantime though, they have set up a small, peaceful retreat — complete with a bench, hanging flowers and a couple small sentimental items — where they can sit and remember and talk with the young man who was gone too soon for them.

This daily ritual may change soon though.

“With the permission of the (previous cemetery) superintendent Jamie Ebert, we have put flowers, a bench and mulch down and made small sanctuary where our family and friends can go and sit in solitude. We go there on a daily basis. We (maintain) this area on a weekly basis and have many complements on it,” Bob said. 

“My wife and I have received a letter from the (current) cemetery superintendent Ray Baldwin stating that he is enforcing the rules and any leeway that the previous superintendent granted will not be honored.”

The thought has grieved Sonja greatly.

“My wife comes on a daily basis and sits for an hour or so and his friends come out to visit him here,” Bob said.

“It would devastate her if we have to take all of this down. She comes out here to connect with Craig and get the little bit of happiness she can to help heal her heart. What’s the harm of that?

“We have people, strangers, coming out and just saying how good it looks,” he added.

“I realize had it been sloppy, that would be one thing. But as long as it looks nice and it’s not creating problems, I think it should be OK. It’s not like we’re coming out here and dumping trash or we just put everything out here and walked away and never came back. My wife is here every day and we keep it nice. We’ve had strangers just walking by and sit on the bench and compliment us and tell us how nice it looks.”

Bob Perry said he thinks he understands Baldwin’s possible thinking, but he hasn’t been able to meet with him to discuss the matter.

“I know he’s probably trying to save money and trying to save time and I’d be willing to push mow this whole area if that what he wants, to help and then he wouldn’t have to worry about this,” Perry said.

“If he’s worried about hitting it, we’ve pushed it all back so he won’t hit the mulch and destroy the mower. If it’s because he can’t cut the grass now as easily with straight lines, I’m more than willing to mow this whole area. He can leave that option up to the people.”

The letter Perry received shed some light from the superintendent.

“In the interest of expediting the mowing of grass and general lawn care, we plan to enforce the extant rules as to decorations on lots which exceed the the rules,” according to the letter. 

“Our costs are rising and if we can cut back even a little on expenses, it will be a big help. ... We are writing to ask that you remove from your lot the items which are in apparent violation of our regulations (wide flower beds, benches and other such items), which we are forced to work around and which can (and have) caused damage to our mowers.

“I realize that some of you were told over time that what you were doing was alright, but actually these acts were in violation of our policies and also create problems for maintenance,” Baldwin wrote in the letter.

Baldwin couldn’t be contacted for any further comment. 

Perry said not only are other families’ burial sites affected, but that many people — including city leaders’ — have been mandated to remove the decorations and small sanctuaries set up around graves.

“There are so many other sites around here that look nice and are kept up and it’s a way to help the family heal,” he said. “Now they’ve all been removed and taken down.

“I feel strongly about this,” Perry added. “Many were affected. Now all of this needs taken out and we just want to know why all of sudden when it’s been here for five years — why things are changing.”

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