Family pays respects to dead by cleaning gravestones on daily walks under pandemic lockdown

To pass the time under pandemic lockdown restrictions, Ryan Emmenis and his children have been cleaning graveyard headstones on their daily walks.

Emmenis, a U.K. resident,  said his family passes by six cemeteries on their daily walks, and the work has helped them to maintain a sense of normalcy through such an abnormal time. 

The volunteer effort started when Emmenis’ wife Hayley asked him to clean the gravestone of a late family friend.

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Emmenis owns a cleaning company, and said he and his kids would take the opportunity during their daily quarantine walks to pay their respects by cleaning the headstone, after which he thought, “We can do more of these.”

After seeing the newly cleaned headstone, the decedent’s family was happy, and Emmenis and his kids had found a new way to help others in a time of crisis.

“Each day on our daily walk we started to clean strangers’ headstones at various cemeteries,” Emmenis said. “Me and my three children spend around 10 minutes on a quick break carefully cleaning the graves each day.”

Ryan Emmenis and his daughters visit cemeteries near their house and clean the gravestones during pandemic lockdown. (Ryan Emmenis)

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They focused on the gravestones that needed the most attention. Because of the dirt and grime that had built up over time, the stones were unreadable and inevitability forgotten about. The Emmenis’ work helped the families that could not tend to them. 

The family uses soft bristled brushes and a specific formula to remove the unwanted biological growth that has caused the headstones to be worn by time, and Emmenis said the activity is good exercise for his 12-year-old Muay Thai champion daughter.

The family usually makes multiple visits over the course of a few days to clean a single gravestone, but the amount of time and work required depends on the stone’s size. 

Emmenis has posted before-and-after pictures on social media and has received praise from family members of the deceased thanking his family for bringing the memory of that person back to life.

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While the hobby may seem unconventional, Emmenis said the response from families and the new opportunity to keep busy during this pandemic is well worth it. 

“It seems to have brought people back together who have lost contact with distant family members or old friends and neighbors who are back in touch with each other and sharing memories,” said Emmenis.

“The simple act of cleaning a grave has brought back to life old memories and it teaches my children about our history and to respect their environment,” Emmenis said.