At age 13, James Williams was facing $9,000 in expenses.
For years, the Renton Junior High School student housed the cremated remains of three loved ones in his New Boston bedroom.
His mother, Barbara McGuire Williams, died in 2011. His father, James Allen Williams, died last November. Grandfather Aaron McGuire died in 2008.
James and his aunt/guardian of 10 years, Lucinda McComb, wanted to inter the cremains, but the cost was prohibitive.
McComb called several cemeteries over the last two years and got prices of $3,000 each for a crypt and $475 each to scatter the ashes.
A single mother of four, McComb also is the adoptive parent of three children. She couldn’t afford the fees, but she knew James needed peace.
“He’s a little boy. He’s carried around three loved ones’ ashes. For him, it wasn’t closure,” said McComb. “He feels responsible for his family. He doesn’t have to carry these ashes.”
On Friday, James and McComb interred all three relatives for free at St. Joseph Cemetery.
Through the Archdiocese of Detroit’s “Gather Them Home Program,” people of all faiths can inter cremains at no cost. No questions are asked, and families do not have to prove hardship. Cremains can be interred all year long but, four times a year, a memorial Mass in the cemetery’s Chapel of Light takes place before the interments.
Friday’s Mass coincided with All Souls Day, which was Monday. All Souls Day is a day to remember the deceased.
About two dozen people attended the memorial service celebrated by the Rev. Giancarlo Ghezzi from Sts. Mary and John Catholic Churches.
Eleven others also were laid to rest Friday: Louis Ambrose, Garret Wayne Eastes, James Imhoff, Peter Francis Knapp, Gary A. Maschke, John R. McKenzie, Lisa Schaffenberg, Joseph Sommers, Lillian Christine Van Riper, Elton Dale Zeemer and an unknown person.
Nine of them were brought by Rupp Funeral Home.
“The most tragic cases are where we have accepted unclaimed cremated remains from local funeral homes or the remains of unidentified deceased or deceased who had no known next-of-kin from Monroe County or outside counties,” said Rachel Lazere, family service advisor at St. Joseph Cemetery.
In his homily, Rev. Ghezzi said the church remembers all who have died, even if they have been forgotten by people.
“The church always remembers and prays for all our faithfully departed brothers and sisters,” he said.
At the end of the Mass, Rev. Ghezzi blessed each person’s urn of cremains with holy water. Then they were taken outside, where each was placed in the cemetery’s community All Souls Remembrance crypt.
James’ aunt learned about the “Gather Them Home Program” from her daughter, who saw it on social media. She knew it was the answer they’d been looking for.
“I think the program is amazing,” said McComb. “This program is so important. They don’t even know us. My boy is nondenominational. Rachel said it was no problem. She was so caring and supportive. I needed that.”
Days before the burial, James and McComb were shown the crypt, and James was given a candle with each loved one’s name on it.
The teen said he feels at peace, knowing his family members are at rest.
“It’s a beautiful place. I’m very grateful to have them here,” said James.
“This is a big thing. It’s a weight lifted off his shoulders,” added McComb. “It’s a relief for him. He’ll never have to worry. He’ll have a place to go visit them. It’s a blessing. This is giving James closure. I can’t say enough.”
The “Gather Them Home Program” was started by the Archdiocese of Detroit in 2016.
Families take part for various reasons.
“The most common reason we hear is that the family can’t afford to bury their loves one, but realize the importance of sacred remains being laid to rest in a cemetery,” said Rachel Lazere, family service advisor at the cemetery.
“In other cases, families come to us years after their loved ones passed and they have been keeping the cremated remains at home on their mantle or in their closet because they were not ready to let them go, but now are ready to create final resting places on consecrated grounds.
“Most families openly share their reasons and the stories of their loved ones with us. Sharing their stories is often crucial in their grieving process.”
Families can bring remains for interment any time. Memorial Masses are held periodically at each of the six AOD cemeteries: Our Lady of Hope in Brownstown Township (the third Friday of each month), Holy Sepulcher in Southfield, St. Joseph in Monroe (quarterly), Mount Carmel in Wyandotte and Holy Cross in Detroit.
To date, about 4,000 have been interred through the “Gather Them Home Program,” including 88 at St. Joseph Cemetery in Monroe and about 1,500 at Our Lady of Hope in Brownstown Township, said Ted Butkin, outreach manager for AOD Cemeteries.
“We are always looking to help any and all families at each of our locations,” said Butkin. “For many families, this is an opportunity to provide closure. We know it is a difficult decision, and we want to help any possible way we can.”