A Cape Breton family that has been grieving the loss of a loved one is now dealing with more heartbreak after some irreplaceable family heirlooms were stolen.

Steve Wadden says the culprits smashed the back door to gain entry to his in-laws’ Sydney River, N.S. home Sunday morning. Area residents reported seeing a truck in the yard at 6 a.m.

Wadden says they stole a number of sentimental items, including a unique China set, some First World War medals, and jewelry belonging to his mother-in-law, who died a few years ago.

“Nobody has really had the heart to go through that stuff and sort it out and split it up amongst the remaining family members, so it just sat in box,” says Wadden. “Some of that jewelry was four generations old.”

The war medals belonged to Wadden’s wife’s great-grandfather, J. George Piercy, who served as a captain and lieutenant-colonel in the First World War. He also died in the war.

“It seems that whoever took the items had knowledge that they were here,” says Wadden. “They only took the stuff that was valuable, they specifically targeted the military memorabilia, the medals, they specifically targeted that jewelry, they knew where to find the jewelry.”

“Those things would mean nothing to someone that came in here and took them,” says relative Nancy Collins. “All it is, is money, I guess, for whatever they needed it for, but to this family it means everything.”

The theft comes just two months after Wadden’s father-in-law died following a battle with cancer.

“We’re still trying to get the estate settled, get the house sold, and hand the keys over to the new buyer,” he says. “My wife hasn’t even had a chance to grieve and here we are being taken advantage of and violated by.”

“I’m infuriated that these kids have to go through this again,” says Collins. “It’s like another slap, another knock down, another tragedy on top of what they’ve already gone through, and they don’t deserve this.”

Cape Breton Regional Police say they are investigating and the file has been handed over to Crime Stoppers. The family has also hired a private investigator to help them find the stolen items.

Wadden says he is also offering a $1,000 reward to anyone who returns the family heirlooms, no questions asked.

With files from CTV Atlantic's Kyle Moore