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Upheaval at Oaklawn: Cemetery to remove all but 1 arrangement from graves

By Brandon Evans | Published Saturday, June 1, 2013

Omar Carrillo was only 25 when he died Aug. 21, 2010, after a tough battle with cancer.

A simple wooden cross built by his cousin is staked into the foot of his grave. The silver hood ornament from a Ford Mustang, Omar’s favorite car and prize possession, rests near the headstone at Oaklawn Cemetery in Decatur.

A plain concrete bench sits alongside the grave, a place where family and friends gather and remember Omar – a place where they sit and tell stories about his life.

NO MEMENTO - The ornament from a Ford Mustang rests with other items at the grave of Omar Carrillo. Messenger photo by Brandon Evans

NO MEMENTO – The ornament from a Ford Mustang rests with other items at the grave of Omar Carrillo. Messenger photo by Brandon Evans

“His sophomore year at high school they were about to play Bridgeport for the big rivalry,” recalled Manuel Carrillo. “My brother (Omar) went to Bridgeport and took the Bull mascot uniform. They pulled up in front of the old high school and my brother was in the back of a truck wearing it.

“Of course the principal finally saw him and made him take it back. But that’s the kind of stuff my brother did. He was a free spirit.”

HONORING OMAR - From left, Dean Bible, Manuel Carrillo, Trevor Phillips and Jacob Mitchell gather at Oaklawn Cemetery to remember their brother and best friend Omar Carrillo. Messenger photo by Brandon Evans

HONORING OMAR – From left, Dean Bible, Manuel Carrillo, Trevor Phillips and Jacob Mitchell gather at Oaklawn Cemetery to remember their brother and best friend Omar Carrillo. Messenger photo by Brandon Evans

Due to a recent notice posted by the board of the city-owned cemetery, Omar’s friends and family might not be able to gather on the bench anymore, or reflect over some of the items and mementos left there in his memory. New rules will limit all grave sites to only one arrangement.

A notice posted on May 17 highlights two items from the general rules and regulations of Oaklawn and Sand Hill cemeteries.

The first reads all “faded, wilted or unsightly flowers will be removed by the groundskeeper.” The second stipulates the “placement of any decorative items such as benches, seats, lights, chimes, toys, carpet, etc., that impede or prevent the mowing or maintenance of the cemetery is prohibited.”

According to the notice, such items will be removed starting June 14.

The “groundskeepers may remove any items that are considered a safety hazard” and “all such property shall not be replaced.”

The cemetery board has cited maintenance issues as a reason for enforcing the one arrangement rule.

“They say it’s for mowing purposes,” Manuel said. “If that’s the case than let me mow around this area. I’ll take care of it. I’d prefer that rather than them taking away what we feel is right.”

“This bench isn’t bothering anybody,” said Jacob Mitchell, one of Omar’s best friends. “It’s a place to sit down, reflect, talk to him.”

Omar’s grave has only a few items. Some are covered in flowers, decorations and religious items.

“There is not as much at Omar’s as some others around here, but it’s the way we celebrate their lives,” Manuel said. “I don’t know about other people but in the past three years my mom hasn’t missed one Sunday coming out here.

“It’s how we grieve. It’s how we celebrate his life. We don’t just spend a few minutes out here. We spend hours at a time.”

“On his birthday, this past May, there were about 16 people out here, hanging out, telling stories. We sometimes even barbecue out here and have a few beers with him.”

It’s not the first time the cemetery board has raised the ire of people over maintenance issues.

In March 2012, the board ordered the mowing of all the bluebonnets at the cemetery, temporarily ending a 35-year-tradition.

“We’d get all kinds of complaints,” board president Gene Blagg said of the bluebonnets. “Some people didn’t want them growing on their plot. It’s too much work to keep up the cemetery and keep it mowed and edged.”

Backlash eventually prompted the board to pull back on the issue, and bluebonnets were allowed to grow and go to seed this year.

Now, the decision to remove all extra items from graves has already upset some with loved ones at Oaklawn.

“People come out here and different family and friends drop off different things,” Manuel said. “There’s a lot of people out here who do different things. People grieve in different ways.”

“I put a hat out here the first year he passed away, a Longhorn hat, because he always wore Longhorn gear, and it sat out here for a couple years,” said Trevor Phillips, one of Omar’s best friends. “People bring things out here for a reason. I’d hate to come out here and just see something gone.”

“If I see something that’s not decorated maybe it means they don’t care either way,” Manuel said. “But we do. And I don’t care what the rules are. It’s not trash. That’s the way I celebrate my brother … I don’t see how anyone has the right to tell us that we can’t have this here.”

3 Responses to “Upheaval at Oaklawn: Cemetery to remove all but 1 arrangement from graves”

  1. Karl Hannah says:

    Manuel, I like your idea of mowing his area yourself. I don’t have anybody buried out there but your solution, I believe, should resolve the issue of having to take up too much of the groundskeepers time to mow and weed eat around Mr. Carrilo’s resting place.

    Good luck sir!!

  2. Dee Schauer says:

    I don’t have anyone interred at Oak Lawn but this is a heartless and horrid thing to do to those who do. The items that are placed with loving care at the gravesites have a lot more value than the Board seems to understand. And if flowers are “faded”, think that some visitors are elderly and may not be able to visit or replace them with new ones often. Have some heart! Chimes aren’t going to prevent anyone from mowing. A weed eater can be used in some places, is this so hard to understand? Have some respect for both the dead and the families! This unfeeling act is downright disgusting and I’ve been hearing similar sentiments all over Boyd and Decatur from men and women both. Maybe ask people to move the items closer to the stone, but that’s IT. Invest in some weed-eaters, Board. That IS the answer. There is another faith that people have become fond of bashing lately, and they don’t care what happens to the bodies of their dead after interment. But we DO. I stand in favor of every family that has someone in Oak Lawn.

  3. Jim Popp says:

    Many cemeteries that I’m aware of allow flowers, flags, etc up during a certain period of time during holidays such as Christmas, Easter, Veteran’s Day, Memorial Day and in remembrance of the individual’s birthday for example. Permanant benches of concrete are not permitted in many cemetaries, yet in others, are welcomed. It depends on the particular cemetary and their rules and regulations which are usually in written form prior to burying a loved one at a cemetary.

    Most cemetaries that due allow flowers, flags, etc to be put on graves at various times during the year also have a stated time period that these items can be left on the gravesites, for each holiday, before they will be removed. Most are 30 days.

    Why not try and meet with the Board of this cemetary and see if some type of compromise can be worked out so that all are feeling better about the situation. To many, a gravesite is a solome place where they like to sit quietly and reflect on their lives with, and memories of, their loved one. An actual barbeque and drinking beer at a grave site, although enjoyed by your family, may be offensive to others coming to the cemetary to visit their loved ones. Be ready to make some compromises so that all can peacefully visit the gravesite of their loved ones and all families are shown respect for their feelings and ways of observing their loved one’s memories.

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