Ryan van Emmenis
Good Deeds

Respecting History: Volunteer Uses His Skills To Clean Neglected Gravestones

He jumped at the opportunity to give up his free time to the task, and relatives couldn't be more grateful.


Ryan van Emmenis is a cleaning professional. With all the things that need cleaning during the coronavirus pandemic, probably the last thing he thought he'd be scrubbing are cemetery headstones.


But that's exactly what van Emmenis has done with the help of his children in their hometown of Winsford in Cheshire, England. The Surry Comet reported van Emmenis got the idea after a friend posted a picture on social media of his sister's headstone, which had become seriously weathered and stained. As he took his daily "coronavirus constitutional" walk around town, he'd stop and work on it.

"I thought 'I'll just take a out a little brush, some cleaning products, and as I pass when I stop for my little break I'll do a bit each day," he said.

The headstones take about an hour to clean, but some that are badly damaged by moss or dirt take longer.Ryan van Emmenis

Van Emmenis was so happy with how the project turned out he started to clean other headstones in two additional cemeteries. "I thought 'I can do this more'. When I'm out on my walks I pass a couple of churches and there are some really old headstones and tombstones." He got his children, Brooke, 12, Lana, four, and Larsson, three, involved. So far they've cleaned 20 headstones.

Ryan says his kids, like four-year-old Lana, are learning the importance of doing good for others by helping him.Ryan van Emmenis

Van Emmenis knows what he's doing. His company Cleaning Helps does a lot of masonary, brick and stone restoration, so he has special skills and knowledge, and access to chemicals the average person wouldn't While some headstones do require special chemicals, he says others can be cleaned with soap and water. "You've got to be respectful of the fact that it's someone's family member, it's someone's memories," he said.

Ryan says once his wife Hayley saw how great the cleaned-up headstones looked, she encouraged him to do more.Ryan van Emmenis

He's gotten feedback from a few family members who are grateful for his efforts. "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."

"Someone used the term 'you're bringing memories back to people'." We can see why!

How can you start something good?

While we're not suggesting that everyone head out to their closest cemetery and start cleaning headstones without permission, Ryan is a great example of someone who noticed a need and then did something about it.

Why not open your eyes a little wider, take notice of something or someone who needs your help, and then jump in and do it. You'll make a difference, and we bet you'll feel good too!

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