The pandemic has shut down ordinary life all over the world, and many people have been struggling to find things to fill their time that feel meaningful, especially since we’re instructed to keep so far apart from one another. A father named Ryan van Emmenis was walking around his local neighborhood in Winsford, Cheshire, when he decided to make a small gesture towards the community. He and his three children have been going on daily outings to clean up headstones in local cemeteries that have long been neglected.
Here is a before and after of a grave stone at my local church.I cleaned and restored the gravestone when passing by...Posted by Cleaning Helps on Saturday, April 18, 2020
Emmenis admitted to the Good News Network that he was partly inspired when he saw a friend post a picture on Facebook of a family headstone that was looking worn out by time. Emmenis runs a professional cleaning company and he offered to spruce the stone for free. After he had finished, he was moved by how much nicer it looked and how good it felt to contribute in some small way to caring for other people’s memories.
Emmenis and his kids started to work on cleaning other headstones in nearby St. Chad’s and Swanlow Park cemeteries, buffing around 20 of them to start. His kids handle the soap and water, and he deals with the industrial-strength stuff.
“It’s good for the children to learn a little bit of history but also respect their environment,” he told Upworthy. “As young as they are, they can still get involved and they can still help. Obviously they don’t do the chemical side of things, but they can do the brushing. They’re quite good at it to be fair.”
Many people are incredibly touched to see headstones that seem forgotten brought to light again.
“You’ve got to be respectful of the fact that it’s someone’s family member, it’s someone’s memories. You’ve got to make sure you’re using the right products and you’re being careful and delicate with it,” said van Emmenis. “Some of these headstones I’m cleaning are over 100-years-old. And algae, moss, etc. can have a really negative impact on them so you’ve got to be really careful.”
He added, “I had some feedback from people saying they were really grateful for what I’d done because it was family members and they hadn’t visited the grave for 20 years, they’d been unable too. Someone used the term ‘you’re bringing memories back to people.'”
Emmenis has started conferring with a church vicar to decide which gravestones need attention. He knows some people will want to start doing similar acts of service, but they should begin with soap and water if they have no professional cleaning experience. Talking to the custodians of a cemetery wouldn’t hurt either.
“When a grave is dull and it’s got algae on it and you can’t read it, there’s nobody seems to give it much time if they don’t know the person,” he explained. “Once you’ve cleaned up one of these graves, it’s really noticeable, which means people are stopping and taking a moment to read and remember these people.”
This is a time to slow down and remember all the ways we can connect to the past and each other.