ary Ilic Hurst and her daughter, Lisa Lopez, residents of Fort Worth, Texas, recently visited Memphis-area locations to promote their new book, “Digging for Daddy: A Promise Kept,” and they hosted a book signing at the TCBY in Bartlett.
The nonfiction publication recounts the two women’s promise to their late matriarch to bury her beside her husband, who had passed away many years earlier and lay buried in Illinois.
They were stunned when they found his final resting place was a mystery.
Upon inquiring in 2005 at St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Cemetery and Monastery in Libertyville, Ill., they were told there was no record of his interment.
This revelation began an eight-yearear ordeal for Hurst and Lopez in which the two and their families, made regular weekend drives to the cemetery to try to find the remains of their father/grandfather so that they could move him to Texas.
They moved the earth on 107 graves without help from anyone else in a desperate, yet fruitless, effort to find him.
“There was nowhere else to go,” Lopez recalled after their final exhumation yielded no better information than their first. “There’s literally nowhere else to go. There’s nothing left to do that we haven’t done. He’s just not there anymore.”
Hurst and Lopez’s ordeal and fight against cemeteries, crematories, and mortuaries also hits home in Bartlett’s backyard. Galilee Memorial Gardens in Bartlett has been closed since January 2014 because of the negligent care of cemetery operator Jemar Lambert.
Galilee hit the headlines in 2013 and 2014 over allegations of land theft to buy bodies, multiple bodies being buried in the same spot, and haphazard or missing records about where bodies were placed. In March, Lambert pleaded guilty in a deal that left him with 10 years’ probation. He still faces costly class-action civil lawsuits.
Similar stories have happened in Miami, Rome, Ga., Chicago, Alsip, Ill.,Gary, Ind., and Hurst and Lopez’s own home of Fort Worth, according to Lopez.
“It’s a nationwide problem,” she said. “There’s laws in place, but it’s not enough evidently because these things are still happening.”
A call to action
Hurst and Lopez want people who have been affected by similar situations to reach out to their local and state lawmakers, imploring them for justice and reform.
“We want people to know that they need to contact their legislatures, they need to contact the Senate, they need to contact anyone they can to let them know, ‘Hey, this CANNOT happen anymore! This has to stop and you need to do something about it,’” Lopez said.
Most funeral homes are trustworthy, said the two. But to make sure you aren’t dealing with one of the cemeteries that would do anything for the bottom dollar, they strongly advised that consumers check with the Better Business Bureau.
“I think it’s important for people to read this,” Hurst said, “just to read our personal story. It might give them food for thought.”
Written by Mac Trammell, special to the Express. Contact him at email@example.com.
Lopez chimed in, “It is about that, but again there’s the other things, about not giving up hope and finding closure. This is what happened to us, but everybody’s got something in their life their having struggles getting over.”
For a signed copy, click on the yellow “Buy Now” button on the Digging for Daddy website or check the book’s Facebook page at facebook.com/diggingfordaddy.