Projects > An Anonymous Kindness Project
One beautiful day this past winter—and by winter, here in Phoenix, Arizona, I mean a brisk 65-degree afternoon—I was beckoned to the cemetery where my son is buried. I was at work when the strong thought/feeling came to me to get my lunch, go to the cemetery, and eat with my son. So, I obeyed accordingly. After grabbing my usual from the Wendy’s drive-thru, I settled on top of my son’s land; where the cemetery doesn’t bother growing real grass, has stupid “visiting hours,” just built themselves a massive brick office building, doesn’t have a specific area for the burial of children, and doesn’t allow the purchase of a real headstone (only a “marker,” they’re called—basically, a flat stone the maintenance men can just drive the mower over, and every other month, go through, swoop up every single item that has been left on the graves, and throw it all away). Alas, I digress.
Just as I settled in to my Junior Bacon-Cheeseburger, I heard voices
approaching from behind. I turned to see three women walking toward me,
a mother and her two daughters. I said, “Hello,” and one of
the daughters returned the gesture. They were heading right for me, so
I assumed either they wanted to tell me something or whomever they were
visiting was buried near my son. I turned back to my food, expecting them
to walk by me, but they ended up stopping practically right on top of
The holidays were coming, and these women had a couple small bags of
decorations for whomever they were visiting. The women sat in the empty
plot next to me and began taking decorations from their bags. The mother
began digging a small hole in the untouched ground to place a bouquet
of silk flowers. I assumed they were decorating that particular area because
the area they wanted to decorate, the next plot over, was already filled
with decorations. It didn’t take them long to finish what they set
out to do. They sat there in obvious remembrance, only murmuring a couple
words in Spanish here and there.
The mother went on to tell me the story of her 14-year old son, who had been shot four years earlier. It had been a scandal to which she will never know the answer. The police ruled it a suicide, while neighbors say the police were on-site before the gun ever went off.
I asked why he had no headstone. She said the cemetery would not let her have one because she still owes money for his burial. Appalled by this, I asked why some sort of payment plan could not have been devised. She said they would not allow her the option, even though, according to her, she only owed $700.
Suddenly, I knew why I had been called to the cemetery that day.
I quickly finished my lunch, got into my car, and drove to the cemetery’s new multi-million dollar office. Absolutely furious as it was, I walked inside to the sounds of Christmas music playing in the building. I almost threw up. I could not believe these people were so insensitive. After being ignored by the secretary for too long, I asked to speak to someone about paying off the debt for the grave of the person buried next to my son. I had obviously perplexed the young girl. She called someone else. A young man came to the front. I tried, in as few words as possible, to explain what I wanted to do, even stopping at one point to apologize for my rudeness, but I hated everything about that cemetery, including the service I had always gotten.
The first remark he made to me after I stated my case was, “We can’t do that.”
I immediately informed him otherwise.
He then asked for the name of the person buried next to my son.
“I don’t know.”
“What is the name of the family?”
“I don’t know.”
“What is the exact location?”
“Next to my son.”
He, or someone in the office, was brilliant enough to pull out the map of the area where my son is. We found him. He then went to look up the balance owed. I was beyond mad. I was pissed.
He returned with the balance—just over $1000.
“Why wouldn’t you guys let her set up a payment plan?”
“Uuuuuhhhhhhh. I don’t know.”
I was able to pay off this debt for my son’s neighbor because my
son had given me a large monetary gift. The girl who caused the death
of my son was driving a commercial vehicle, and the lawsuit with the company
had just settled shortly before this day.
I wanted the entire exchange to be anonymous, but unfortunately, I had to make sure I could still catch the women at the site and have them confirm their address with the office. The deed would be mailed to them, and then, they could pick out the boy’s marker. I didn’t have a kindness card with me, so I scribbled on a scrap of paper, “This random act of kindness done in loving memory of my son.”
I raced back to the area and as I approached, the women were already packed up and walking toward their car. I yelled for their attention. I walked straight towards the mother and said, “I paid off your debt.” It took a little more explaining for her to believe what I was saying. She fell into my arms crying. The girls also began crying joyfully and hugging each other. I told her she needed to go to the office and confirm her address so they could mail her the paperwork. She began asking for my phone number or address. I refused, wanting this to be a gift with no reward other than her smile and the joy of knowing her son’s name would be proudly displayed.
I thank my son for guiding me toward that gift, giving me that amazing feeling.
Several weeks later, I arrived to see the brand new marker next to my son’s. Now, there is no more digging to put the flowers somewhere.