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'Difficult decision' to close Surrey cemetery on Mother's Day angers some families
VANCOUVER -- On a day that many families were feeling the loss of a loved one particularly acutely, a Surrey cemetery closed its grounds to Mother's Day visitors, citing COVID-19 public health orders.
Valley View Cemetery appears to be the only cemetery in B.C.'s Lower Mainland that barred loved ones from paying their respects to matriarchs on May 9 and 10.
"I heard Kits Beach was open and other things are open — but the cemetery was closed ... with security at the gate," said George Moschonas, who was stunned to find his way blocked when he went to lay flowers at his mother's gravesite.
"We go often during the year anyway, but Mother's Day is kind of a special day. We all really wanted to go."
Ian MacDonald ran into the same problem when he went to lay flowers early Sunday morning.
"The sadness of missing your mom on Mother's Day, locked out at the cemetery gate with wilting flowers in your hand, is pretty awful," he said. "Tough day made tougher, for sure."
Abor Memorial's Western Canada regional director told CTV News the Valley View Funeral Home and Cemetery on 72nd Avenue in Surrey had to make a difficult decision on a weekend that's one of their busiest, and thus riskiest, during the pandemic.
"I know some families are upset. Many families were very understanding, however," said Patrick Downey.
"For two weeks prior to the closure, we placed newspaper ads in many publications, we did an email blast to over 2,000 of our owners and we also had our website and Facebook notifications up, signage on the grounds," he said. "It is one of our busier days, but we know that in order to keep our responsibility for keeping people safe and maintaining social distancing while having less than 50 people at a time on our grounds, which it's our responsibility to maintain that."
Neither Moschonas nor MacDonald had seen any of the postings or ads from Valley View.
"I just wish they could have created an alternative such as asking people to spread the visits out over the week or to schedule ahead in reserved time slots," said MacDonald.
Moschonas said he would've understood waiting to enter the grounds, but rather than restrict access, the security guard on site wouldn't let anyone in.
"I've been to Home Depot, I've been to Costco and everyone seems to be doing a great job limiting how many people go into the stores at once, so I don't see how it couldn't be enforced at a cemetery to limit how many visitors go in at a time," he pointed out.
Downey says they had tried that approach, but on a particularly busy day in April the cars were backed up on busy 72nd Avenue and the city told them they were creating a traffic issue.
"I can't really speak to the other cemeteries, but I can speak to Valley View and in a normal year we have literally hundreds of cars coming through the cemetery in a very concentrated timeframe, generally on Sunday morning," said Downey. "The dual responsibility that we had to manage safety, manage social distancing — we were just concerned we would have a very difficult time being able to maintain that."
He says they hope the physical distancing restrictions are relaxed in Phase 2 of the province's economic re-opening plan next month so future occasions aren't cause for heartache.
"We're sorry that it was difficult that we had to close our gates on the Mother's Day weekend," said Downey. "We're hoping that Father's Day we'll be able to have a different situation."