A confusion at the cemetery upsets the family | The Kingston Whig Standard

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When her time came, Cecilia Ponte’s fervent wish was to be buried in St. Mary’s Cemetery next to her mother, Luiza Cabral. To achieve this, the Ponte family bought a monument in 2017 and had it installed on the family plot in the northeast part of the vast cemetery. The granite marker was inscribed with the names of Cecilia and her husband, Jose, with birth dates but no death dates. The beautiful tombstone sits next to another that marks the graves of her deceased relatives.

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Cecilia’s time came earlier this month. She died, thankfully, at 93 after spending her last five years in a nursing home in the relentless grip of dementia. The Ponte family were comforted that they would soon go to their eternal rest lying next to their beloved mother, or so they thought.

But that’s not what happened. Due to a confusing plot mix-up and a misplaced headstone, Cecilia Ponte arrived 17 feet short of her desired final resting place. She was buried in an unmarked grave at one end of a six-plot site adjacent to a grave that contains her brother-in-law and a second that awaits her surviving sister. Cecilia, who wished to be at her mother’s side in death, found herself more than five meters away. The Ponte family is understandably puzzled.

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Joe Ponte kneels next to his mother’s new grave in St. Mary’s Cemetery, 17 feet from where she wished to be buried, next to her mother. Photo by Patrick Kennedy /For the Whig-Standard

Worse still, the family only learned of the different location the day before the funeral. “(The cemetery) called my sister late Friday morning and told her they couldn’t bury our mother next to our grandmother,” Cecilia’s son Joe Ponte said. “My older sister called me crying.”

Joe Ponte immediately went to the cemetery office to find that it closed at noon on Fridays.

The next day, the dozens of mourners who had attended Cecilia’s funeral at Our Lady of Fatima Parish had no idea anything was wrong, until they arrived at the cemetery.

“People were confused, some were visibly upset,” Joe Ponte said, recalling the Nov. 5 funeral. “They were standing around his headstone and they couldn’t see no hole had been dug.

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“My mother is buried here.” He took a few steps to the left and stopped in front of a cool grave and measured the distance. “She is 17 feet from where she should have been buried.”

The confounding kerfuffle has given new meaning to the phrase “serious error”.

In 1990, Maria Inez Medeiros and Dionisio Medeiros, Cecilia’s sister and brother-in-law, pre-purchased half a dozen graves at the cemetery, plots 45-50 inclusive. The line-up would see Cecilia’s parents in the middle and flanked on one side by the Medeiros and on the other by Cecilia and her husband, Jose, with Cecilia next to her mother. His father and mother were buried there in 1990 and 1992 respectively, followed by Dionisio Medeiros a few years later.

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In 2017, Jose Ponte purchased a permanent marker from Cataraqui Monuments. Prior to installation, the family received confirmation from the cemetery as to the precise location, presumably above lots 49 and 50. The location, ultimately, was incorrect.

“Cecilia Ponte is buried in the correct plot,” cemetery superintendent Philip Wilson confirmed, citing official documents. “It’s the monument (Ponte) that was put up in the wrong place.”

Wilson, who as director of cemeteries for the Archdiocese of Kingston oversees 57 Catholic cemeteries, said the cemetery had offered to move the headstone to its place at no cost to the family. Cecilia’s remains, however, will likely remain behind.

The gesture of moving the monument has done little to appease the Ponte children, who have yet to take their 95-year-old father to the grave, fearing the shock will be too much for his weak heart. “If my dad sees this,” Joe Ponte said, referring to the cemetery confusion, “he might as well stay here, because he wouldn’t be coming home.”

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Joe Ponte stands between monuments meant to mark the graves of his maternal grandparents, left, and his parents.  This last stone, however, was installed in the wrong plot in 2017, forcing the Ponte family to bury their recently deceased mother in an unmarked grave next to her sister and brother-in-law.
Joe Ponte stands between monuments meant to mark the graves of his maternal grandparents, left, and his parents. This last stone, however, was installed in the wrong plot in 2017, forcing the Ponte family to bury their recently deceased mother in an unmarked grave next to her sister and brother-in-law. Photo by Patrick Kennedy /For the Whig-Standard

The Portuguese couple emigrated from Sao Miguel, the largest island in the Azores archipelago, to Canada in 1951. They were married for 71 years.

If you think this is a one-time event, think again. A Google search for “burial plot mix-ups” yields many examples of botched burials.

In 2011, for example, sisters Evelyn and Hortense Edwards, daughters of the late Beatrice Williams, learned that they had been at the wrong grave for 20 years. Their mother was buried elsewhere in the cemetery in Linden, NJ. Last year in Deloraine, Manitoba, Dan Griffiths was mistakenly buried in previously sold land. Also last year, in Oak Bay, New Brunswick, the family of the late Merle Stewart was preparing for her burial when they received a call from an official at the Oak Bay Rural Cemetery informing them that the family plot , sleeping four, had been mistakenly sold to someone else and was now occupied, this despite the Stewarts producing a 2004 deed and receipt showing the purchase of those same four plots. In 2017, in Lafayette, California, ex-Marine Richard Chaloner was buried in the wrong plot at Oakmont Memorial Park. Ditto for the two men from Tiverton, RI, who were buried in plots assigned to others. And so on.

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Father Manuel Tavares, parish priest of Our Lady of Fatima parish, blessed the new tomb as well as the two empty plots under the mistakenly placed tombstone.

Wilson said a gravedigger at the cemetery noticed the problem as he prepared to dig the hole the day before Cecilia’s funeral. “The map of the family plots showed that it did not line up with the Ponte monument,” Wilson explained.

“It’s really an unfortunate mistake,” he added. “This was not done in secret or to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes. We do everything we can to honor the families who use our cemeteries.

Patrick Kennedy is a retired Whig-Standard reporter. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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