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.
“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.”
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.”