Southern Memorial Gardens loses license

Last month, 57-year-old Deborah Lancaster died of a heart attack. But because of a legal battle between her chosen cemetery and the state, her children can’t bury her.

The fight centers on a cemetery, Southern Memorial Gardens. According to the state office of cemetery oversight, Southern Memorial Gardens is in bad financial shape. So bad, the office has refused to grant it a license. That means people can’t bury their loved ones at the cemetery.

The same fight has ensnared 85-year-old John Ballenger. He met his wife in a bar in 1950. The pair were married almost 55 years until she passed away.

“I can't talk about her,” Ballenger said. “I can't talk about my wife. She's been dead almost seven years and I miss her more today than I did when she died.”

Danny Martin, owner of Southern Memorial Gardens, said the state has stopped the cemetery from operating, which in turn has cut off its flow of money. Martin faces 13 criminal charges for allegedly doing business without a license.

But Martin says that if the state gave the cemetery back its license, they’d be just fine.

“My hands are tied,” Martin said. “I can't help somebody! They call me, they've lost somebody they love, and I can't help them.”

On Wednesday, a judge allowed three families that made early arrangements to bury their loved ones at the cemetery. But the Lancasters purchased their plot too late. So they can only wait.

They may lean of their mother’s fate at an auction for the cemetery, scheduled for October 24.