Cemetery plot dispute may lead to disinterment

Three plots at Holy Cross Cemetery in Grand Rapids are in dispute. (Sept. 1, 2015)


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A family is being told that three dead loved ones must be dug up and moved from their graves.

A widow whose husband’s body is among those that will be moved is so distraught she could not speak to Target 8 on camera. Her family lawyer agreed to talk on her behalf.

“She happens to firmly believe that this is their eternal resting place and she does not want to disturb them,” said attorney Steve Grimm.

The widow wished to keep her and her family anonymous. Her husband died in 2010 and was buried at Holy Cross Cemetery on Grand Rapids’ northwest side, which is run by the Catholic Diocese of Grand Rapids.

Now she’s being asked to have the coffins of her husband, mother and grandmother be disinterred and moved despite a contract written by Mike Wawee, a former Kent County commissioner.

Wawee is serving a one-year jail sentence with work release for ripping off clients at the five local Catholic cemeteries he managed. Target 8 tracked down him at work to get his side of the story, but he did not want to comment.

And after talking to the diocese, it does not appear that the mistake that led to the bodies having to be moved was his fault. Rather, it seems to be a mistake in cemetery policy.

The problem it seems, is that the widow doesn’t directly own the three plots. Other family members say they paid for and are the rightful owners of the plots and are now disputing their current use.

But because the woman was related to the people to whom the plots belong, cemetery management allowed her to have husband, mother and grandmother buried there.

Diocesan officials declined an interview, but did send a statement that reads:

“An unfortunate situation has developed at Holy Cross Cemetery in Grand Rapids between members of the same family. Several years ago, two individuals were interned in plots that they were not entitled to for burial. Since the plots belonged to relatives, cemetery staff allowed the interments. Diocesan staff are working with members of the family to find a solution.”

The cemetery has offered the family eight free plots in exchange for moving the bodies a few feet, which will open up the three plots.

The widow says she’s not moving her family for anything.

“Our family is deeply distressed by the careless practices of Holy Cross Cemetery. Grieving the loss of a loved one is enough to endure without being asked to move your deceased from their grave and final resting place, disrupting the sense of closure that comes from the burial process. These types of oversights should never happen, and it is our hope that the Diocese of Grand Rapids Catholic Cemeteries will resolve this matter in a way that respects the deceased and our family’s wish to keep our loved ones at peace,” the family said in a statement.

“It seems to me like something should be able to be worked out without disinterring people,” said Grimm.

The families and the diocese now have lawyers involved. The matter may have to be settled in court.

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