Article in The Albuquerque Tribune: Duke City’s living memorials provide shade and comfort

There’s little that eases the pain Herald Baca feels since losing his granddaughter three years ago, but the tree planted in Santa Barbara Park helps.

During his weekly visits to the living memorial, it helps him remember Mia, just days old when she died.

It helps him imagine taking walks with her, imagine what she would look like if she were alive today.

“It has kind of freed me of the misery of not being able to know her,” says Baca, 39. “There is a form of healing.”

Baca is one of hundreds who have planted a tree through a roughly 20-year-old city program giving people the chance to remember their loved ones while bringing a bit of clean air, beauty and shade to the Duke City.

“This is something that kind of finishes things after the funeral’s over that I think people generally feel good about,” says Jeff Hart, who oversees the program as superintendent of the city’s park management division. “Even though people are hurting, it’s a positive thing.”

For $200, people can have a tree planted in a city park. They also receive a certificate noting the event and a tree-side plaque displaying their choice of words.

The planting is practical and ceremonial, Hart says, and very emotional. Participants can help deposit the soil, and they have a chance to say a few words. He has seen everything from preaching pastors to people playing an electric guitar.

Baca came up with the saying for Mia’s plaque. It reads: “An angel sent by God to touch our hearts forever. In Grandpa’s heart you will remain eternally, Love Papo Herald.”

“I was looking so forward to hanging out with her,” Baca says. “This way you feel like you’re doing something, even though they’re passed on.”

He was inspired to plant a tree by his fianc‚e, Loretta Martinez, 45.

To remember her son who died in a car accident seven years ago, she adopted a one-mile stretch of highway in northern New Mexico. Each of his birthdays has her heading north to clean the roadway.

Baca admired the memorialization and wanted to do something for his granddaughter. His tree ended up inspiring Martinez.

She said the beauty of Mia’s tree – across the street from the cemetery where Mia rests – made her want one for her son to be placed nearby, though she intends to wait until next year.

“It’s somewhere you can go and sit down,” she says. “A tree gives you comfort through its shade.”

Next year is also when the couple plans to get married, and Martinez said there’s the possibility of having the ceremony next to Mia’s tree, or, if her son’s is up, both trees.

“It makes you feel like they’re near you, whenever you go by and see that tree,” she says. “It’s growing; and, in the summertime, we know it’s going to have leaves, it’s going to get really pretty, and it signifies life. Even though they’re not here, it still signifies their life.”

FACTBOX: Living memorial

For about 20 years, the city’s tree memorial program has offered Albuquerque residents the chance to remember a loved one or celebrate an event by planting a tree in a park. It costs $200 for a tree, its planting, a commemorative certificate, a plaque with room for 65 characters of the purchaser’s choice and care for the living memorial.

When you can plant: September through May

Most popular parks for the memorials: Altura Park near Carlisle Boulevard and Indian School Road, El Oso Grande Park near Montgomery Boulevard and Morris Street

Typical tree: Six-foot to eight-foot tall caliper

Number of trees planted this year: 57, which is average.

Number of trees planted throughout the life of the program: More than 550

Trends: More trees have been planted recently for people in U.S. military; more pets are being memorialized

Other memorials available: A park bench is $1,200

More information: City of Albuquerque Park Management Division at 857-8650 or City parks

Source: City of Albuquerque Parks and Recreation Dept., Park Management Division

FACTBOX: Cookbook help

To help pay for a city park bench in memory of a friend’s son who died, Albuquerque resident Linda Reisen and her friends put together a cookbook they sold at craft shows and to acquaintances. They raised $2,500 for a $1,200 bench, and used the extra money on memorial trees for other friends who had lost their children. Reisen said in 2007 they want to continue to sell the book – called “I’ll Have What She’s Having” – and make the funds available to any Duke City resident looking to memorialize a dead loved one through the city’s programs.

For more information, contact Linda Reisen

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