A woman has spoken of her upset after holding three funerals for her mother after the council stopped her from being buried in her plot.
Allison Howe’s mum Margaret passed away on April 29 and her dying wish was to be buried in the same grave as her parents in Comber Cemetery.
She had planned for this for a number of years and had paid for her original funeral herself in order to ease the strain on her family.
However, a few days before Margaret was due to be buried, Allison was told by the funeral director that Ards and North Down Council had contacted them and said that she could no longer be buried in her grave as there was not enough room.
Speaking to Belfast Live, Allison said she was appalled with the way that she had been treated by the council, saying that they refused to meet her at the graveside to discuss the arrangements and instead said she would only be able to purchase another plot for her mother somewhere else.
She said: “My mother has always said to us that when she passed she wanted to be buried with her mum and dad in their plot in Comber Cemetery.
“The plot had been bought in 1975 when her father passed away and was supposed to hold four people, with her mother being buried there in 1991.
“After her death we had everything arranged for her service and burial, when a few days prior the funeral director contacted me and said the council wouldn’t allow her to be buried in her plot as there was not enough room.
“I was shocked to hear this and contacted the council asking to meet with them at the graveside to discuss things, but they refused and said all I would be able to do is buy another plot elsewhere which would have cost thousands and would have been completely against my mum’s wishes.
“I went round to the grave to see what the issue would be and found they had filled it in again, so I wasn’t able to see what the issue was. Although I found a handle from one of the coffins that had been left on top of the grave and never put back in it.”
Allison said that following her mother’s service her body was taken back to the funeral home for the night before returning to her home ahead of a cremation service.
She continued: “Instead of being able to say goodbye to my mum, after her service she went back to the funeral home before returning to mine when we took her to Roselawn for her cremation.
“She had to have her shroud removed in order to be checked by a doctor ahead of this on Zoom, which was very hard for us to deal with.
“We then had to go and do everything again the following day at Roselawn.”
Now Margaret’s ashes are finally set to be buried with her parents on Wednesday, June 8, which will be the third funeral service for her.
Allison said: “We feel it has been appalling the way we have been treated by the council around this. They never contacted us originally regarding the grave and then refused to speak with us at all. If it was not for our fantastic funeral directors going above and beyond for us I don’t know how we would have coped.
“They have told us they have no records of the previous burials at the grave and have not been able to tell us how there was no room in it for my mum. None of it makes any sense and we have been given no answers at all.
“My mum paid for her funeral plan, which included a fee to the council to open the grave for her burial. If there was no room in the grave following her mum’s burial in 1991, why were we not notified as a family about this.
“All I have been trying to do is follow my mum’s wishes and give her the burial that she asked for, alongside her parents.
“We now just want to say our final goodbyes next week so she can be finally laid to rest where she is meant to be.”
An Ards and North Down Borough Council spokesperson said: “‘Arrangements were made a few days ago for the internment of Ms Howe’s mother’s ashes in the family plot next week.
“It was not possible to perform a coffin burial in the plot due to the limited space available.
“At the time of purchase, Council graves are not sold with a guaranteed occupancy as ground conditions vary across our cemeteries.
“We cannot always confirm that a grave can accommodate a further coffin without testing for depth. We offer a depth testing service, that can be requested at any time by a grave owner to provide greater reassurance prior to a family member passing. We publicise this service but know from our own records that in many cases, sadly, the person who originally purchased a grave has since passed away and other members of the family may not be familiar with the arrangements.
“We are very aware that having to make changes to burial plans at short notice is distressing for families at what is already a difficult time and will always do our utmost to try to find a solution that the family can accept.
“Direct contact between bereaved families and the Council is usually very limited. It is standard practice for a Funeral Director to liaise between the Council and the family about all matters connected to a burial. We are however always willing to communicate with families if contacted directly by them.”
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