I’ve learned in the last few weeks as a returning intern to The Oakdale Leader that sometimes a reporter’s job is to simply figure out what went wrong. Sometimes, this leads to a fantastic investigation. Sometimes (maybe most times) it just stems from a small miscommunication and fizzles. This time, it led to heartbreak.
Manuel Cardoso’s son passed away Nov. 27, 2017. On a recent visit to his grave (June 5, 2019), there was no headstone to mark his final resting place.
“All I care about is my kid’s headstone,” he repeated time after time.
The first time he said it, it was insistent, the next it was explanatory, then it became somewhat of a mantra – his primary focus.
Manuel and his family buried Anthony Cardoso soon after Thanksgiving of 2017. Just a few steps away from Anthony’s grave is his mother’s final resting place. She passed from cancer on Christmas day in 2010.
Manuel Cardoso had agreed to pay for a package deal for both the grave and headstone for his son.
Here is when the story begins to shift a little. Manuel noted that he never got any designs or pictures and wasn’t shown anything for the headstone. He reported that when he asked how long it would be, the response he got from the cemetery was that they have to wait about six months for the ground to settle before they can put any headstone on.
“I waited six months and a week,” he said, later adding that he’d visited the grave within this period. But when that half a year mark rolled around, his son’s grave was still bare.
The explanation? He hadn’t yet ordered the headstone.
“What do you mean I didn’t order the headstone?” he’d asked aloud during the interview. His frustration was evident: “I paid for it. She took my money. Why is there no headstone there?”
The next year was filled with compounding irritation and heartache. The headstone order was finally placed in late 2018.
As the date grew nearer to his son’s birthday in April, Manuel was anxious for a marker. He was promised something for his son’s birthday, but he was not happy with what he got.
“Now April 30 came up, that’s when I really blew up,” he shared. “(Anthony’s) got a headstone, just sitting on the ground ...”
Though it was engraved, Manuel felt it was a crude attempt, something his son didn’t deserve. After all this, Manuel had expected a finished headstone. The marker on the grave was taken off after that, and when family visited and saw that there was nothing, they called in, too, just as vexed as Manuel himself.
“Why is it taking so long for these people to put one in there?” he asked. “It feels like I’m burying my kid a second time.”
So, it was time to figure out what exactly was taking so long. Seems like anyone in this situation would be completely frustrated, especially a parent having to bury their child.
The investigation took Marg (my editor) and me to Valley Home Memorial Park, the scene of Manuel’s confusion and Anthony’s grave.
The park itself was quaint, quiet, and well kept.
We made our way into the office and explained the situation. The staff showed immediate honesty and integrity, and quickly made sure that we had the answers that we were looking for. They called on Elena Reyes, who works with the headstones and clarified some of the points in question.
“Normally the parents will follow up days after or weeks after. Everyone handles bereavement differently,” Reyes explained. She further said that after someone orders a headstone, “we put them in number order. The sander’s on 29, and (Mr. Cardoso is) number 40. And this is all based on the date that the order was placed and paid for in full.”
The situation immediately cleared as she continued explaining. There was no secret motive or any hidden agenda; simply because Manuel had not approached them to design the order, they hadn’t made one.
Quickly, everything came together.
Due to the fact that the company that Elena works with is a small business with only one sander, it takes quite a while to design a headstone (which is balanced out by their lower prices). Just because it may have only taken a few weeks to get a design with another company, this is no measure for how fast that they will be able to produce a top-quality marker.
“(Manuel’s) mindset was that when they buried his son, the stone should have been made,” Reyes continued. “And I told him that’s completely separate. The cemetery doesn’t have the authority to just make a headstone for someone.”
As Anthony’s birthday grew nearer, Reyes was compassionate. The stone wasn’t nearly close to done, but they still had something. She offered to put the stenciled design on the grave in April.
“It’s not going to look good, it’s not going to look like the finished product,” she noted. “I said we can tape the stone and do a little work to it so that when family comes, they can see something instead of just a bare grave.”
It wasn’t meant to be a crude attempt at a marker. It was meant to be something extra they offered, just to try and help ease the loss. They recently picked up the stone to finish it up and ensure top-quality.
Though there was confusion about the process, the headstone company has had to follow protocol.
Reyes shared that it wouldn’t be fair to have Mr. Cardoso’s order jump past everyone else that had paid and ordered a design before him. Though she said they often wanted to, and tried to reach out to help in more ways than one, it seemed to fall short of recognition.
We thanked them for their time and candor and then left, wondering what to do. Should I even write this article? Is it newsworthy? Will I even be able to tell a proper story?
My hope is that it shows the real heartbreak of Manuel and his family and does justice to their story, while also maintaining the integrity and compassion of Valley Home Memorial Park. In this story, there cannot be blame; if anything, this just may be a cautionary tale.
Autumn Neal is an OHS graduate, Class of 2017 and attends Biola University in Southern California where she is a communications studies major. She is in her third year as a summer intern with The Leader.