When Terry and Janet Shover were in their 40s, the Cuyahoga Falls couple bought two burial spaces at Northlawn Memorial Gardens in the same mausoleum where Terry had just laid his father to rest.
Terry Shover died 24 years later, and his family had his funeral in September 2017 at Northlawn in Cuyahoga Falls.
A few hours after saying their final goodbyes, though, the family learned there was a problem — the casket wouldn’t fit in the intended spot.
The family and cemetery officials discussed potential solutions, including possibly putting Terry Shover in a smaller casket or burying him in another location, but have been unable to reach a resolution. The frustrated family is now suing.
“Is this not bizarre?” asked Janet Shover, 66. “I just can’t believe it.”
The Shovers recently filed a lawsuit against Northlawn and its parent company, Stonemor Partners, in Summit County Common Pleas Court. The family is seeking more than $25,000 for negligence, breach of contract and infliction of emotional distress.
Stonemor, headquartered in Pennsylvania, has the second-largest network of cemeteries and funeral homes in the United States, with 322 cemeteries and 91 funeral homes in 27 states and Puerto Rico. The company says on its website that it “focuses on the sensitive needs of its customers and their families.”
A Stonemor spokesman declined comment for this article, saying the company doesn’t discuss pending litigation.
The Shovers bought the two burial spaces from Northlawn at 4724 State Road for $6,390 on March 23, 1993. They did so shortly after Terry Shover’s father, William Shover, died and was buried in the same mausoleum. Terry and Janet’s spots were one space away from where William and, later, his wife, Elaine, were buried.
"We didn't want the kids to have to do anything," Janet Shover said of her and Terry's children.
A mausoleum spot like they purchased would reportedly now retail for about $20,000.
Terry Shover, who worked for the Chrysler stamping plant in Twinsburg for 36 years, died Sept. 24, 2017, of complications from pneumonia. The family had his small funeral service three days later at Northlawn.
Janet Shover and her children, Julie Coffman and Bill Shover, first learned about the casket issue when they returned home from dinner that evening and got a phone call from Steve Shoemaker, the funeral director with Clifford-Shoemaker Funeral Home, which handled Terry’s arrangements.
Shoemaker told the family that cemetery workers tried to place Terry’s casket in the second of the family’s two length-wise mausoleum spots. The other space is reserved for Janet when she dies. Terry's casket fit in the first spot but not the space farther back where it was supposed to go, possibly because of a shift in the brick mausoleum building.
Shoemaker said in an interview last weekthat the casket was a standard size and, according to the dimensions, should have fit.
Shoemaker said he is aware that this section of the mausoleum is narrow and he always calls when someone is going to be interred there to make sure the casket will fit. He said he has heard of issues in which caskets won’t fit into mausoleum spots but those problems involved funeral homes that didn’t check the dimensions.
“If it makes it into the first part, it should make it into the second part,” he said.
The family have kept Terry’s remains in the first mausoleum spot while they explored options.
Cemetery officials initially suggested pulling Terry’s casket, returning it to the funeral home, putting him in a smaller casket and then returning him to the mausoleum space. But the family says because they had unanswered questions, this step wasn’t taken.
Cemetery officials later told the Shovers an addition was planned to the mausoleum and said the family could have spots in the new section, but later said the cemetery wasn’t moving forward with this project. A grassy section next to the mausoleum is still cordoned off with orange fencing.
At one point, the cemetery also offered to build a two-person mausoleum for the Shovers on the cemetery grounds at no charge.
Coffman said the family considered this, but also wanted to keep the mausoleum spaces for Bill, her brother, to use in the future, and for the cemetery to pay their attorney fees. She said the cemetery declined this offer.
Joseph Kacyon, the family’s attorney, said he feels for the family having to deal with this on top of their loss.
“There’s never been so much as an, ‘Oops, we’re sorry,’ ” Kacyon said. “That kind of thing goes far in this world.”
Bill Shover doesn’t like the idea of his father’s remains being moved.
“He’s in his spot,” he said. “He’s not supposed to be bothered.”
Coffman is worried that other people who have purchased spaces in the mausoleum could have the same issue.
“I don’t want it to happen to someone else,” she said. “It’s been awful.”
Janet Shover is concerned about what will happen if she dies while this issue is unresolved. Her name is carved next to her husband’s, with her birth year and an empty space for the year she dies. She doesn’t want to be cremated but is willing, if it’s the only way she can be buried with her husband of 45 years.
“I have to be with him,” she said, fighting tears.
Shover has regularly visited her husband's burial spot since his death, often sharing with him her frustrations over their burial predicament. As she prepared to leave on a recent afternoon, she kissed her hand, put it on Terry’s name and said, “Bye.”
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705, firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter: @swarsmithabj.