Some of the gravestones they've cleaned are over 100-years-old and they believe it's important to preserve these memories.
Ryan van Emmenis and his children have found the most heartwarming—albeit unusual—family activity for the lockdown days. At a time when people rarely do anything for others without expecting something in return, this father and his little ones are looking out for the ones who lie forgotten in neglected graves. Making the best of their daily walks since the lockdown came into effect last month, the family has been cleaning up weathered headstones in local cemeteries every day. They've restored over 20 headstones to their former glory so far, winning the internet's heart for the thought and effort they put into it.
According to the Surrey Comet, it all started when van Emmenis came across a friends' post on social media featuring an image of his sister's grave. The father-of-three, who runs a cleaning company called Cleaning Helps, couldn't help but notice that the grave looked rather weathered and offered to clean it up for his friend. This incident got him thinking about all the other neglected graves and he realized he could make a difference. "I thought 'I can do this more,'" he said. "When I'm out on my walks I pass a couple of churches and there are some really old headstones and tombstones."
"I thought 'I'll just take out a little brush, some cleaning products, etc and as I pass when I stop for my little break I'll have a little drink of my water and do a bit each day,'" van Emmenis continued. "You see results and you're like 'oh, this is great' so I just wanted to keep doing it." He explained that although the amount of time he spends cleaning a headstone depends on its size, he generally spends about an hour on each one over the course of three or four visits.
Soon, his three children—Brooke, 12, Lana, four, and Larsson, three—got involved with the side project and joined their father in cleaning headstones and tombstones. "It's good for the children to learn a little bit of history but also respect their environment," the 37-year-old said. "As young as they are, they can still get involved and they can still help. Obviously they don't do the chemical side of things, but they can do the brushing. They’re quite good at it to be fair."
After his first headstone clean-up as a favor to a friend, van Emmenis started to clean others in two local cemeteries in Winsford, Cheshire after noticing that they looked like they could do with freshening up. "You've got to be respectful of the fact that it's someone’s family member, it's someone's memories. You’ve got to make sure you’re using the right products and you’re being careful and delicate with it," said van Emmenis. "Some of these headstones I’m cleaning are over 100-years-old. And algae, moss, etc. can have a really negative impact on them so you’ve got to be really careful."
He has now linked up with the vicar of a local church to pick the graves that need his attention. As pictures of his work caught the attention of netizens, van Emmenis has received messages of gratitude from many. "I had some feedback from people saying they were really grateful for what I'd done because it was family members and they hadn't visited the grave for 20 years, they'd been unable too," he said. "Someone used the term 'you're bringing memories back to people.' When a grave is dull and it's got algae on it and you can't read it, there's nobody seems to give it much time if they don't know the person."
"Once you've cleaned up one of these graves, it's really noticeable, which means people are stopping and taking a moment to read and remember these people," he added. "A little bit of patience, care, and attention and a soft-bristled brush with a bit of soapy water will do a fantastic job."