Lifestyle & Human Interest

Family Spending Lockdown Cleaning Headstones of Complete Strangers


Many people pass through the world seeing only their plan, their path, and how they can benefit from the world around them. Others go through life observing their surroundings and finding ways to leave the places they visit a little nicer than they found them.

Ryan van Emmenis, 37, from Winsford in Cheshire, England, seems to be one of the latter. He runs a cleaning business called “Cleaning Helps,” and it being a practical trade, he can use his skills pretty much anywhere.

One of those places happened to be a cemetery with a gravestone for a friend’s sister. He saw the friend post a photo online, noticed that the gravestone was dirty and offered to clean it.

After encouragement from his wife, Hayley, he knew this could extend far beyond a single grave and began to work in more.

“I thought ‘I can do this more,'” he told the PA news agency, according to the Surrey Comet. “When I’m out on my walks I pass a couple of churches and there are some really old headstones and tombstones.”

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“I thought ‘I’ll just take a 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.'”

“You see results and you’re like ‘oh, this is great’ so I just wanted to keep doing it.”

“Here is a before and after of a grave stone at my local church,” he posted to his business Facebook page on April 18. “I cleaned and restored the gravestone when passing by on my daily exercise on a quick break. It will continue to look cleaner and cleaner over the coming months.”

“Do something nice, and be kind :)”

It takes several visits during his exercise and about an hour total to clean one headstone. But soon van Emmenis realized that he had more resources at his disposal than ever before.

Those resources were his children, Brooke, Lana and Larsson, ages 12, 4 and 3, respectively. He started to involve them in his project, finding the work educational and beneficial.

“It’s good for the children to learn a little bit of history but also respect their environment,” he said.

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“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.”

“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.”

Van Emmenis handles the heavy lifting (aka the chemicals), but lets the kids do the brushing.

“As young as they are, they can still get involved and they can still help,” he said. “They’re quite good at it to be fair.”

“A little bit of patience, care and attention and a soft bristled brush with a bit of soapy water will do a fantastic job.”

Their work cleaning more than 20 headstones has been noted and appreciated, and they’ve received gratitude from family members of the deceased — especially those who haven’t managed to get round and clean the stones themselves.

Someone even told him that his work was helping bring “memories back to people.”

“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 [to],” he shared.

“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.”

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