In January family and friends of Velia "Val" James gathered at Grand View Memorial Park from near and far during the cemetery's once a week visitation afternoon to mark what would have been her 69th birthday.
Instead of simply leaving traditional floral tributes, 31 of Mrs. James' loved ones chose to honor her by spending the afternoon cleaning up the entire Garden of Memory, where her cremated remains were interred during a burial service 12 years ago.
Mrs. James' daughter, Felicia James-Ceberio, traveled with her husband Julio from their home in Las Vegas. Her only grandchildren, Monique and JC, flew in from Northern California. Felicia's in-laws, Eddy & Caridad Ceberio flew in from Miami, Florida. "The rest of the group are great friends that joined us from all over Southern California," Felica told me.
While cemetery representatives pursue a sale of Grand View under terms reached in 2007 with the state's Department of Consumer Affairs Cemetery and Funeral Bureau, the public continues to have limited access to loved ones buried there. The gates are opened by volunteers each Sunday between 12-4 p.m.
Many families have told me that, like it or not, they work around the weekly schedule, marking special dates on the nearest possible Sunday to spend time at grave sites remembering occassions that hold deep personal meaning.
For the James-Ceberio family, the Sunday schedule worked out well this year. "The day was particularly special, because it was January 15, my Mom's birthday," Felicia said.
Felicia explained that she had not been to visit her mother's resting place for a few years and found out about Grand View's closure and legal problems when she looked up directions to the cemetery online. When she arrived in person, she was not happy with what she encountered.
"Needless to say I was heartbroken when I saw the condition of the park. When I was unable to locate her [grave marker] due to the roots I vowed to return and clean-up her final resting place. I called a few friends, my kids and in-laws and everyone said they wanted to help," she said.
The Garden of Memory is a circular portion of Section B, one of Grand View's oldest sections that dates back to 1891. The garden was developed separately in 1949 and has approximately 450 burial spaces, most of which are marked with small, uniform granite memorials. It features a vintage sundial at its center. Part of the walkway around the garden is damaged from the roots of an old shade tree that was removed in 2011.
To paraphrase a popular saying, sometimes it takes a village to accomplish big goals. Felicia found that she had just that kind of support for her idea.
"The owner of my company, Lincoln Spoor and his wife Sarah, as well as our director of finance, Jen Morse, donated money so that we could purchase gardening equipment and supplies. In addition, our company, Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, donated doughnuts for all of the volunteers," she said.
"It was a great day and I know that my mom is proud of what we accomplished in her memory. It was hard work. However, we made such a difference. The before and after pictures speak volumes," Felicia added.
See Felicia's entire collection of photographs from Mrs. James' Birthday Clean Up here.
Do you have a visitation story you'd like to share with readers? Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org with the details.