- Associated Press - Saturday, November 14, 2015

FOND DU LAC, Wis. (AP) - In 2011, the Hughes family moved from Fond du Lac to Kissimmee, Florida. Two years later, tragedy struck the family when Zander, their 3-year-old son, drowned in an in-ground pool. Zander’s mother, Michelle, discovered his body floating in the water.

The family had his body transported to Fond du Lac for burial at Calvary Cemetery, where Michelle Hughes’ mother, Donna, and grandson Jullian are also buried. Hughes and her sister, Pam Smith of Fond du Lac, regularly place items like figurines and stuffed animals at Zander’s headstone. It is an important part of their grieving process, they say.

“I’ll never allow anyone to look at his grave and think he’s been forgotten, because he never will be,” Hughes told Action Reporter Media (http://fondul.ac/1MEEcTG ) by phone from Florida.

But there is a problem. The sisters’ actions violate policies at Calvary Cemetery. Recently, management started enforcing the policies, which are that no more than two items can be at a grave site and that certain types of items are not allowed.

Zander’s bedroom in Florida remains full of things he loved in life: toy cars and trucks, as well as stuffed Mickey Mouses, his favorite Disney character. Some of the boy’s bedroom belongings are placed at the headstone. Symbolically offering the items to him again is part of Hughes’ grieving process. “All I could do for him anymore was put things out there for him, from his room,” she said.

Calvary not only limits how many items can be displayed. It also bans items like decorative flags, stuffed animals, toys and small knick-knacks. The items will be removed from the site by groundskeepers, said Judine Lange, Calvary Cemetery’s general manager. Items are returned to loved ones who ask, and Smith confirmed that she has received items back from the cemetery.

The policies are so that groundskeepers can trim around the grave monuments and keep the cemetery looking neat and clean. “The staff and lot owners take great pride in the appearance of our cemetery, and adherence to these regulations and guidelines is important to maintaining the beauty of the cemetery,” Lange said.

A recent visit to Calvary Cemetery, which has 18,000 plots, revealed graves that were mostly bare, with a few decorated with a single vase of flowers or a small item. The graves of Zander and Hughes’ mother stood out for their decorations, such as a cross, a message rock and small figures.

Jaimie Schwartz, Hughes’ daughter, understands Calvary Cemetery’s policy. She said she’s seen “a lot of stuff” at Zander’s grave; a few months ago she counted about a dozen items. Schwartz’s son, Jullian, is also buried at the cemetery.

Other local cemeteries don’t have a number limit like Calvary, but still want clean grounds.

“When things are weathered, we reserve the right to remove them,” said Rae Nell Halbur, the family service counselor at Rienzi Cemetery.

Ledgeview Memorial Park management declined to answer questions regarding the cemetery’s policies. But the rules and regulations posted at the cemetery grounds state that management has the right to remove decorations that have become “unsightly.”

The policies at the three cemeteries are in addition to their cleaning days, which happen in spring and fall. All items are removed so the groundskeepers can clean up. However, loved ones are notified beforehand of these days so they can remove the items if they wish.

For Hughes, cemetery rules and regulations take a backseat to honoring the memory of her child.

“Just like a fingerprint, grieving is different for everyone and is a personal journey,” she said. “No one has a right to judge my personal beliefs on this journey, and part of this process, for me, is to be able to leave things at his site.”

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Information from: The Reporter Media, http://www.fdlreporter.com

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