Shared headstones not allowed at city cemetery

Joan Parent spent nearly 50 years at her husband Don’s side, and that’s where she wants to be buried.

Joan Parent spent nearly 50 years at her husband Don’s side, and that’s where she wants to be buried.

In life, we shared everything, said Parent in a recent interview.

But a city bylaw stands in the way of their continued sharing through eternity.

When Parent eventually joins him at Whitehorse’s Grey Mountain Cemetery, the city prohibits a single headstone on their two plots.

“The only way I can have a common headstone is if my plot and my husband’s plot are head to head,” said Parent.

“But when my husband died, the plot that was opposite him was already gone, so I bought the plot next to him.

“Nobody told me I couldn’t have one stone between the two plots.”

“Right now she can be buried next to her husband, that’s not an issue,” said Parks and Recreation manager Linda Rapp.

“The issue is with the headstone.”

There are several alternatives available, said Rapp.

Each must have its own headstone, but could reference the spouse or be designed to make it obvious the two are connected.

Another option is that Parent be cremated and have her ashes put on top of her husband Don’s casket.

“But I don’t believe in cremation unless it’s an absolute necessity,” said Parent.

“And there are umpteen graves, up in Grey Mountain, where there are two names on one marker and they’re between the two plots.”

There are several shared headstones in the cemetery because the bylaw prohibiting them was not passed until 2003.

“There’s a number of operational issues involved,” said Rapp.

“The cemetery is not designed for that and, in some places, what typically could be done by equipment has to be done by hand.”

“How many young people come home every summer and the city gives them jobs?” said Parent.

“How long would it take for them to go around the monuments with a Weed Whacker?”

It’s not just a lawn maintenance issue, said Rapp.

Common headstones can also make it difficult for digging equipment to get to the plots.

And in winter it makes it tough to count plots and can cause errors in determining where they are.

“The other part is, even if there is the possibility of physically making it happen in some cases, once you do that you have to allow others,” said Rapp.

“We’ve already had to turn some people down.

“We are aware that it has been an issue with some people, which is why in the future designs we’re looking for a way to accommodate that,” she added.

The city is in the process of designing its new Grey Mountain Cemetery master plan.

Along with expanding the cemetery’s size, the new plan may include culturally specific areas, a pet cemetery and areas for green burials.

“We don’t have a completed design and it hasn’t gone for final approval of council yet, but that is moving forward,” said Rapp.

“And we are planning to make an area available for shared headstones in the new expansion area of the cemetery.”

The final draft will come to council for approval near the end of February.

If there were an area for shared headstones, Parent would like to move her plot there.

“But then how much is it going to cost for them to dig my husband’s casket up and move it to another spot?” she said.

“That’s going to cost me a small fortune.”

Even that might be an impossibility, as current bylaws restrict cemetery staff from disinterring remains for anything but forensic purposes.

“I’m 70 years old. I’m not getting any younger,” said Parent.

“I have tried to get this settled before I die.”

There are many widows and widowers in Whitehorse who are in the same position, said Parent.

“I’m willing to go to the seniors’ centre and have a special meeting there and get signatures.”

Last September would have been Parent’s 50th wedding anniversary.

“He was the love of my life,” she said.

“I just want to be laid down next to my husband after 49 years and I can’t do that — I can’t have one marker between the two of us.”