Aspects of the policy changes at the Glen Abbey Memorial Gardens have several families of loved ones buried in the cemetery upset over the handling of the rule changes.

MIAMI – Heartbreak and frustration have been expressed over new rules and regulations at Glen Abbey Memorial Gardens.

The Miami cemetery located east of the city on Highway 10 has been under the new ownership of Brown-Winters Funeral Home and Cremation since March of this year. The current owners have implemented new rules governing the placement of decorative memorial items such as statuary, lighting and hanging baskets and the plantings of trees, shrubs, and flowers.

Aspects of the policy changes have several families of loved ones buried in the cemetery upset over the handling of the rule changes. Many say they weren’t contacted and found out about the changes by word of mouth. Others like the changes and say the cemetery looks better and improved.

Stacks of angel statues, flowers, engraved stones, shepherd's hooks, crosses, solar lights, benches, landscape edging and more items that once adorned the graves within Glen Abbey cemetery are depicted haphazardly strewn in piles at the back of the cemetery in photos taken by Wathena Swinehart, which she posted on Facebook on June 30.

“I am shocked any cemetery would think this is ok,” she wrote.

Swinehart’s parents are buried in the cemetery and she says she understands the need to remove debris, rock and other such items.

“We actually went out there to decorate graves and switch out the decorations and the majority of them were gone,” she said. “My sister had planted a rose bush on my Mom and Dad’s grave as allowed before and they had sprayed it with weed killer…It’s part of the reason I posted, I wanted people to be able to go out there and get their stuff out of the pile.”

That day at the cemetery, the family approached a man mowing and say they were told they could no longer have items on graves and were directed to the back of the cemetery.

“There was this huge pile of several people’s stuff,” she said. “It made us sick.”

Swinehart was referred back to the cemetery’s Facebook page for correspondence with the owners.

“I expressed my concerns and they said we could keep little things on the headstones, however my parent’s graves were wiped clean. Even the things on the headstones,” Swinehart said. “My Mom was all into yard stuff and that’s one of the reasons she bought the plot out there.”

Some items used as grave markers were also removed, according to Swinehart.

“It looks bare and sad now, and there’s no clear set guidelines we have been given,” she said.

Other cemeteries do implement rules and policies and time frames on the allowance on grave decoration for maintenance purposes. Another local cemetery has a four to five day period where all items must be removed for cleaning, but items are allowed at other times.

When contacted by the News Record, cemetery owner Jeff Brown declined comment saying he had already discussed the issue as much as he wanted and would not speak with media. He did confirm the changes were made to improve the cemetery and for more efficient maintenance purposes and said only a few families had expressed upset or concerns to him.

By all accounts the new owners did place a banner at the cemetery entrance notifying family and friends of the change on April 1 giving until May 1 to remove items. The ownership also has previously listed timeframes on Facebook, such as the week of Memorial Day or Christmas week allowing items and decorations and flowers to remain on graves for limited periods of time.

On the cemetery's Facebook page, which has now been taken down, it was posted some of the items left could be picked up at the cemetery and asking those with questions to contact the owners at any time.

Rebecca Chambers has both sets of her grandparents, her parents, siblings, aunts, uncles and her two sons buried in the cemetery. One son died at 6 years-old in 1995 in an accident and another died a year ago at 24 years-old from heart failure. She lives in Kansas and was able to have family members retrieve items from her sons’ graves after learning from friends on Facebook about the new rules. She is upset by the changes and the lack of notice and information provided to her and other families.

“My brother would go out and help with that so the groundskeeper wouldn’t have to worry about going around all the extra stuff,” she said.

Chambers like many of the other families said she understands the need for changes and even appreciated the improvement efforts to a degree, but feels the rules go too far.

“It means so much to keep their memory alive,” she said. “When my son Cody died, he was 24 and the most awesome boy you could ever ask for, strong, healthy and in good shape. He had cardiomyopathy and didn’t find out until he was 21 years-old and had his first heart attack…Last summer his heart finally gave out and we lost him. He’s there.”

Chambers said Cody’s friends decorated his grave and all she had to mark the grave was the funeral marker, because she can’t afford a stone yet. She is unsure if it has been left in place. Living four hours away she says makes it impossible for her to make trips to place and then remove items as listed in the new rules.

“They had little things they had put out on the grave and we had to remove all of that now. To me a memorial garden, or cemetery is for people to go see their loved ones and remember them and never forget them,” Chambers said. “You go and decorate and you want the best for them, just like if they were still alive. It’s kind of like a shrine.”

Being able to leave special items placed on graves was why many of the families said they chose Glenn Abby for burial.

“They could have at least taken people’s stuff and put it somewhere safe for them just out of respect for the deceased,” she said. “For so many years the cemetery was great, nobody ever messed with anything.”

Chambers hopes the owners will reconsider such strict rules and allow placement of a least a few items, or allow families the option to care for their own plots, and find ways to give notice if maintenance is needed. She provided photos of her sons’ graves to prove they were well maintained by family.

“When my oldest son died I went to the cemetery every day when I lived in Miami. It’s very hard to leave your child behind,” she said. “Those are still my babies, those are still my boys, those are still my parents and a cemetery is supposed to be place of rest, of peace. I feel like I can’t put anything out there now.”

“It’s very sad. It’s very disrespectful to my family, to the other families and to the people that are buried there,” Chambers said. “People go there to see them, to remember them. They want to be able to have crosses and angels and little things there, like the little cars and trucks my son used to put on his brother’s grave…I would like them just to stand up and say they were wrong…they need to put theirselves in our place – what if it was their child? What if it was their mother, father, sister, brother, aunt uncle, spouse? How would they feel? They way they handled it was very disrespectful and unprofessional especially from people who ought to know how to comfort and deal with people.”

Other families tell similar stories.

Miranda Blevins’ infant son Kharter is buried at Glen Abbey. She said she cannot have solar powered lights or pinwheels by his grave.

“That's how we feel we communicate with Kharter because the wind could absolutely be dead that day and we walk up and his pinwheels start going crazy! Now I can only have a few things attached to his cement block under his stone or anything on his stone.” Blevins said. “Nothing can be off the stone unless it's a holiday and I can only have stuff out for a week then it has to be picked up or they trash it. Grief is absolutely the worst thing. Kharter’s father's grandmother use to own that cemetery that is the reason we chose it. If I would have known then what I know now I would have second guessed that resting place for my newborn son. I feel absolutely disrespected and absolutely hurt by all of this. I'm just sick to my stomach over it all.”

Kharter’s aunt, Jeannie Robinson, says her nephew lived for a just brief time and the family visits his grave every week.

“It was a big shock to our family, so his grave is the only thing that we have really have left of him,” Robinson said, “ I love that they cleaned up the cemetery and it does look nice now. The thing that upsets us all is we can’t have anything out there any more unless it’s a holiday. “

“Families were always allowed to plant trees, bushes, flowers, have a fence around it, with crosses or flower hangers, wrought iron statues, angels, etc. Now it’s bare! Uprooted trees and everything,” Rhonda Gower said.

Her son is among those buried in the cemetery,

“It has always been a very pretty place, we all always took care of our plots, that was the agreement if you put up fences or extra stuff you had to keep it up, weedeat and trim, and we did,” Gower said. “It’s heartbreaking...they didn’t give an explanation, and it’s not temporary, it’s permanent. It’s such a sad looking place now.”

Janet McCord wonders why the cemetery can’t adopt less strict rules to allow items year round to be removed during maintenance and clean up periods. She said she has called Miami City Hall, and other cemeteries seeking answers to and researching what is legally allowable. She says Glen Abbey is the only area cemetery with such rules.

“My Mom’s been out there over 20 years and my dad seven and there’s never been an issue as far as decorating the graves,” McCord said. “People who have loved ones out there, we should have the right to decorate our family’s graves. We paid for that lot, so I don’t get it. ”

McCord says her parents’ graves are special places for her and offer a way to honor and remember them.

“They’re not here like you can do anything for them, so that’s basically the only way you have of keeping in touch,” she said.

Melinda Stotts is the associate editor of the Miami News-Record. She can be emailed at mstotts@miaminewsrecord.com or followed on Twitter @MelindaStotts1.