SURREY — “He’s so happy right now... I can feel him in my heart right now.”
Shirley Briscoe, mother of Jason Briscoe, blew her late son a kiss as she waited for his headstone to be set in the dewy grass of Sunnyside Lawn Cemetery on Tuesday morning.
Jason was 46 when he passed away from colorectal cancer on May 23, 2013 after a two-year battle.
“That’s so beautiful,” Shirley said as she looked at her son’s name and years of birth and death engraved in the granite marker.
With tears in her eyes, the 85-year-old mother placed a red rose on his grave.
The marker was installed free of charge through a City of Surrey initiative. While the Ministry of Social Development pays for the interment of individuals whose families can’t afford a burial or cremation, it doesn’t cover the installation of a memorial marker.
The city has partnered with Stonemarks Engraving, which will provide markers to families receiving help from the ministry in the future.
Jason Briscoe was one of three people whose markers were installed on Tuesday. Currently, there are 32 markers being provided through Stonemarks Engraving.
The city is also launching a second program to solicit community donations to be able to provide memorial markers for the 350 pre-existing unmarked graves in Surrey’s three civic cemeteries. This program is expected to be in place in early 2014.
Shirley said having a marker on her son’s grave provides her with some closure.
“It makes me feel wonderful. It touches my heart. Mind you, I have such a hollow heart right now, but time will heal,” she said Tuesday.
Shirley couldn’t believe it when she found out her son would receive a headstone, free of charge.
“I had goosebumps. I felt so relieved and I was so elated,” Shirley said.
Jason’s sister, Anita Briscoe, spoke to a modest crowd at the cemetery Tuesday and said the two were close, even as young children.
She spoke of Jason’s career modelling in Paris, Greece and Milan.
“My brother was an artist, a true people person and an amazing athlete. In fact, I remember watching him in aerial skiing. It seemed effortless,” Anita said. “He would do a backflip, spreadeagle, land it perfectly, every time.”
Anita said her brother’s last and biggest request was that he received a true Catholic mass and burial.
“I promised him that this would be,” Anita said.
Her family laid Jason to rest on June 7, but they were not aware the headstone was not included in the burial.
Anita later contacted Sunnyside Lawn Cemetery staff and inquired about getting one.
“I felt as though my promise I made to my brother Jay was incomplete, seeing that his gravesite was still unmarked. It was at this time that Anna (Terrace) explained the program she was giving wings to, where her ultimate goal was to ensure that no person lay buried without a headstone.”
Anna Terrace is Surrey’s cemetery co-ordinator, who initiated the program to get markers for all of the city’s unmarked graves.
“Thank you Anna. You have given something incredible to me and my family today. My brother’s Catholic mass and burial is now complete,” Anita said. “I can’t really find a way to ever repay you, but how I look at it is perhaps all of my brother’s good deeds are being repaid to him and to his family here today.”
Terrace said it’s important that all community members are remembered.
“How many times do you walk through a cemetery and take a look at the names and dates and wonder who that person was. We don’t need to know their financial status, it’s proof that they were here and they existed,” Terrace said.
Those wishing to donate to the project can call the city’s cemetery office at 604-598-5770 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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