Four sisters forced to bury their mother alone, want her moved to the family grave with her son and husband, or they will demand all three be exhumed and buried together.
Geraldine Teer from Co Down and sisters Maggi, Noleen and Corina, say they were put in an impossible situation because of red tape and now they’ve vowed to reunite their mother Nora with dad, Ernie and their brother Michael.
The Teers are one of 14 families this year alone, who discovered their family plot was already ‘at capacity’ leaving them unable to bury a loved one in a family plot in the Ards and North Down Borough council area because inspectors said the graves are too small.
Bangor pensioner, Campbell Mulholland, 94, remained in a morgue for two weeks because the council ruled his grave was a half inch too small, but last week executed a U-turn and allowed him to be buried in “lighter soil” and a smaller coffin.
His family’s plight prompted public outrage and a petition started by Alex Easton MLA called for Northern Ireland’s citizens to be given dignity in death and have their final wishes adhered to.
Mr Easton said: “The Teer family is sadly another example of red tape gone mad. It’s time for common sense and compassion.
“Our petition has been signed by more than 4,800 people and I’d like to hit 5,000 and take this to Stormont and call for action.”
Geraldine Teer, a care assistant from Bangor, said her family will not rest until the family is reunited in one plot.
She explained: “We’re devastated and angry. Our brother Michael died in 1982 aged just 16 from leukaemia and we really never recovered from losing him.
“Dad bought the three person grave for Michael 39 years ago with the intention that he and Mum would join him in time. It was the only comfort they had.
“Dad died in 2014 and was buried with Michael and mum said often that we were to make sure we buried her with her boys and then close the grave.
“Dad was buried there six years ago and no one said then it was too small to take another coffin.
“We were told that just 48 ours before mum was to be buried. It was crushing.
“My sisters were on their way from England for the funeral when we were told that we could buy another grave or Mum could be cremated a day later. In the end mum had to go alone into a grave at the head of our family plot and now we’re tortured because we promised her she’d be in with them.
“We must get Mum moved to our dad and brother or have them all moved to another grave together.
“Our mother had deeply-held religious beliefs, she didn’t want to be cremated and she found significant comfort knowing she’d be with Michael and Dad. Having been denied a place in the Teer family plot, we know she won’t rest in peace until we get this sorted.”
A spokesperson for Ards and North Down council said they were unable to find a solution to have Mrs Teer buried in her preferred resting place.
She said: “Exhumations are undertaken very rarely and need to be carefully considered. They can be a very distressing experience for all involved. While a council can perform this function, it requires approval from the Department for Communities who have responsibility for exhumation applications.
“We accept that incidents such as this are distressing for families at what is already a difficult time, however, we will always do our utmost to try to find a solution that the family can accept.
“The issues that arise primarily affect burials in older graves. The records held for these graves are not as detailed as we would like. We are also actively looking at a process to address and identify similar issues in advance of requests to open graves.
“Since 1 January 2021, we have identified 14 grave plots at capacity. In 12 of these, the capacity issue was discovered at the time of opening for a second burial. The council has advised the funeral director for each family that the grave cannot accommodate a third coffin. In these circumstances the families impacted have the opportunity to plan in advance for future burials.
“In two of the 14 cases, it was determined at the time of the grave being prepared for an immediate burial that the grave was at capacity and no further coffins could be buried in those plots due to The Burial Grounds Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1992.”
It is only in the last 16 months that families whose burial of a loved one has taken their plot to ‘full capacity’, have been advised no more coffins will be permitted, although cremated remains may be added.
Prior to October 2019, no one was told until the grave was prepared one to two days ahead of a funeral, leaving them under pressure to make a decision on a cremation or finding another plot.
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