Losing a family member is a pain like no other. An Atlanta family learned that having to unexpectedly postpone their burial only adds to that pain.

The backhoe that broke down while digging Helen Baynes’ grave two weeks ago stood off to a corner and the yellow caution tape around the gravesite was still hung up moments before the burial Saturday.

But on the sunny afternoon, a day much like March 4 when the burial was originally planned, her family could finally say their goodbyes.

“I feel so much better now because I felt like I was mistreating my mother,” Baynes’ only child, Trina Baynes, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution after Saturday’s burial. “I tried to do everything I could for her and I’m not a perfect daughter, she wasn’t a perfect mother, but we were what each other had. I did not want to fail in this.”

A retired Delta customer support agent and department store greeter, Helen Baynes died Feb. 21 after an excruciating battle with dementia.

About 200 family members came from all over the country to celebrate the 82-year-old during the March 4 funeral at Travelers Rest Missionary Baptist Church that Trina Baynes had planned. At the end of the church service, as the family followed the casket to load it into the hearse to drive to Carver Memorial Gardens for the burial, a funeral home director pulled Trina Baynes aside. They couldn’t bury her mother. The backhoe had broken down.

“I felt so guilty that I couldn’t even do something as simple as put her in the ground,” she said.

She made her way back to her mother’s home in southwest Atlanta, which was bought when Trina Baynes was 11 years old, and just stayed there. She wanted to be in the presence of her mother — the place where she took her last breath.

ExploreFamily waits, and waits, for opportunity to bury loved one

It wasn’t until Tuesday, 10 days after the initial planned burial, that Trina Baynes was able to gather herself and return to her own home. Things were finally starting to look better and plans for the burial were moving along.

But to get to that point was slow going. Trina Baynes said the funeral home gave at least two other dates for the burial. When those days would roll around, something would happen and the burial would have to be postponed once again. The backhoe stuck at the gravesite was the biggest hurdle. The family insisted that the backhoe had to be moved before any ceremony could go on.

In an interview for a previous AJC article, Rebecca Seaton, the general manager of the cemetery, said that she was working to rectify the situation and was having trouble finding someone to fix or move the backhoe.

The 15,000-pound heavy equipment vehicle, with its arm extended, had broken down atop what should have been Bayne’s grave. Burials since March 4 have been handled by an outside contractor — with a working backhoe, Seaton said.

It had been mentioned by others to Trina Baynes to bury her mother somewhere else, she recounted. She never even considered that option. Since 1975, she estimates that at least 30 family members, including her son and her grandmother, have been buried at Carver.

“My mother struggled through segregation. She was born in 1940. There were only certain schools she could go to, there were only certain jobs she could work at,” she said. “My mother struggled through all of that. And then I felt like she can’t be buried and nobody cares.”

When Trina Baynes called the Georgia Secretary of State’s office, that’s when she said progress started being made. Noula Zaharis, director of the Securities and Charities Division of the Secretary of State’s office, which oversees cemeteries, said Tuesday that her office had opened an investigation into the situation and was prepared to take enforcement actions if it was not resolved quickly.

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

On Saturday, the backhoe could only be seen from a distance.

Family members focused instead on the graveside service. The casket was gray and silver, Helen Baynes’ favorite colors. On top were three pink roses, reflecting her daughter’s favorite color and the color she wore to the funeral.

With the family praying and singing together, the hearse, which was parked on mud and grass, began to be driven forward and back onto the road. Suddenly the front tires began to spin without traction. The hearse was stuck in the tracks of the backhoe that just a few days ago had began to sink into the mud. It had to be hitched by a pickup truck in order to move.

Before Helen Baynes was lowered into the earth, Trina Baynes brought her gaze downward and reached forward, placing her palm on the casket that shimmered in the sunlight. She said her goodbyes with a sigh of relief that she had finally met her mother’s wishes.

She pointed at several surrounding gravesites with her family’s name on them and said, “Mama is where she’s supposed to be.”

Credit: Courtesy Trina Baynes

Credit: Courtesy Trina Baynes

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger is encouraging any Georgian with issues concerning cemeteries to call 470-312-2640.