Wisconsin cemetery dispute shows dying can be an ugly business

When Rita Sztukowski of Cuddahy, Wis., died last year at 82, the plan was her cremated remains would be buried in the family plot in the cemetery. The family already had purchased the gravestone and all that remained was to carve “2013” as the year of her death.

Then the family members changed their mind and decided to divide her ashes among the four daughters and grandchildren.

“Some of us regretted not keeping some of Dad’s ashes,” one daughter tells the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “Mom always told us to do whatever we wanted with hers. She really didn’t care if she was next to my dad or not, not because of anything to do with their relationship, but she believed that she would be reunited with him in heaven, so burial wasn’t a concern for her.”

They still intended to carve the proper tribute on her headstone, but now Butch Miller, the head of the Catholic cemetery says “no.” The cemetery either gets all of what remains of Rita, or the family can forget about the headstone.

“If you let this go, then what’s next? ‘Oh, I want to have a statue of Satan on the cemetery grounds. I want the crucifix upside down. I want the Virgin Mary with a dagger in her womb.’ What’s next?” Miller told the paper.

“We are against division of remains. We are against making jewelry out of people. We’re against the scattering of remains,” he said. “I think their mom deserves a lot more respect than that.”

The cemetery director seemed to hint if the family brought some ashes — any ashes — and said it was all of Rita, he’d cut the price of opening the grave and finishing the headstone from $700 to $400, but the family says it’s not interested in lying.