SW Michigan mom fighting to keep child’s memory alive

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BANGOR, Mich. — Monica Jensen both cries and smiles when she talks about her son Zachary Pietrzykowski. He died in June 2008 while lying in her arms and just weeks after his 7th birthday. He’d been battling a rare blood disorder since birth and his body couldn’t fight anymore. So his family decided to honor him with tree, decorated with many of his mementos.

“His headstone was getting overcrowded,” said Jensen sitting at her dining room table. “So grand-jan, Rosemary Jackson was a big part of his life and all the kids call her grand-jan, her idea was to put this miniature fake tree down there and we can hang all his memorials on it. This way all his sentimental things would be with him.”

Jensen said there’s angels on the tree and doves and mementos from his Cub Scouts days. She said when they initially put it up st Arlington Hills Cemetery in September that year, the city of Bangor didn’t like it. But the family fought to keep it there.

“By October 2008 we had it resolved to where the tree was allowed to be kept down there as long as we maintained his grave, which we have,” said Jensen. “We refurbished it. We replaced it every couple of years. We make sure that it doesn’t just rot down there.”

Jensen said they had not heard a complaint from the city since that time. However on Monday when grand-jan went for a visit, it was gone. She and Jensen were heartbroken.

“The fact that someone could just yank that tree up and not even have a second thought that maybe the family would want the personal belongings off of it,” said Jensen who thinks it's unbelievable. “To even just throw it in the garbage and not have a second thought about it.”

The next day grand-jan went to City Hall and asked about what happened to the tree. They told her it was swept up during the cemetery cleaning and was currently in a landfill in Grand Rapids.

“Sorry about your luck there’s nothing we can do about it,” Jensen said repeating grand-jan’s conversation with City Hall. “I guess they were remorseful and very apologetic but that still doesn’t replace the fact that it was gone.”

City Manager Regina Hoover said they did not try to “deliberately upset anyone.” The tree had been broken off for a year and the sexton put it back near the headstone. Nonetheless, the City has to abide by the cemetery clean-up rules that are posted at the graveyard and in the local newspaper.

“We try to work with everybody the best we can,” said Hoover in a phone interview. “It’s a sad thing that happened.”

Hoover said that clean-ups happen twice year, once in the spring and again in the fall. She said in the future she will personally call Jensen to remind her of when clean up is scheduled so the family can pick up the tree  beforehand and put it back afterwards.

Jensen said she misses her spunky son. His memory gets her though the hard times, which she’s been going through lately. She recently had shoulder surgery, among four other procedures, and has been away from work so long that she may not have a job or home to return to.

“It’s like everything bad that could happen at once is happening all at once,” said Jensen. “And then for his tree to be gone too. That’s what I'm focused on more is his tree. Not the fact that I’m about to be homeless. I’m worried about his tree. I’m worried about the memories."

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