Discovering Grandma Joyce: What occurs when somebody dies alone?

Sarah Turner was 9 months pregnant and in the course of a transfer in
California when she realized her Grandma Joyce had died of COVID-19. It
would take two extra years – and plenty of on-line looking – for her to
lastly uncover the place her grandma was buried.

Grandma Joyce was outgoing, foolish and above all “very lovely,”
Turner remembers. Her hair was at all times rolled up in curlers, and she or he wasn’t
afraid to inform it to you straight.

Rising up, Turner beloved being at her grandma’s home in Maryvale,
whether or not it was digging up worms within the entrance yard or sneaking away
cookies from the again room.

“I endured plenty of issues throughout my childhood, and among the candy
instances to get away had been after we had been up at my grandma’s,” she stated.

Turner knew that her grandmother had been hospitalized within the Phoenix
space in June 2020. The hospital had been calling in search of Turner’s
mom, recognized as the following of kin, to decide relating to
intubation. However Turner says her mom had herself been hospitalized
after an assault, and informed her daughter, “Inform them (the hospital) to do
no matter.”

“I informed them, ‘Please save her,’” Turner stated.

Shortly after, on June 22, 2020, 73-year-old Joyce Maryanna Williams died.

The decision that knowledgeable Turner didn’t come from the hospital or the
county however from her grandma’s finest good friend – a girl she’d by no means met. She
must look on her personal to seek out out what occurred to her grandma.

“I didn’t know who to name, as a result of no one known as me to let me know the place my grandma’s at,” Turner stated.

She tried calling the bodily rehab middle the place her grandmother had
been together with the hospital, however no one was capable of reply any of her

“I simply wasn’t positive what they had been doing together with her and that was my greatest concern,” Turner stated.

Between September 2021 and August 2022, 718 individuals in Maricopa County
died alone, that means subsequent of kin had been unable to be positioned or refused to
deal with preparations.

However what occurs when somebody dies alone? Who decides how they’re
buried and the place? And the way do family members discover their closing resting place?

That’s the place organizations and on-line websites equivalent to and Discover a Grave – and other people like Theresa Chesser – are available.

Within the fall of 2022, Turner upgraded her account in
hopes of studying extra about her family tree. After doing so, she observed a
little inexperienced leaf by her Grandma Joyce’s title, indicating “hints” or
new data.

It led her to a web site known as “Discover a Grave” the place she was capable of
see her grandma’s profile and, most significantly, her closing resting
place: White Tanks Cemetery.

In easy phrases, Discover a Grave, a subsidiary of, is an
on-line database of cemetery information. Since 1995, over 226 million
digital memorials have been created by its neighborhood of “gravers” who
have uploaded particulars such because the decedent’s title, beginning date, dying
date, burial location and gravestone images to construct digital cemeteries
in all seven continents.

Many gravers do that to doc their family tree or discover well-known
individuals’s gravesites. However a couple of, like Theresa Chesser, have discovered a
totally different motivation: to assist discover misplaced family members.

The ‘Desert Angel’

Since 2012, Chesser, a graver who goes by the nickname “Desert
Angel,” has created over 8,200 memorials and added over 760 images to
Discover a Grave.

She was launched to the web site by her sister-in-law who was a
genealogist. “Once I came upon about Discover a Grave, I used to be hooked,’”
Chesser stated.

She found that White Tanks Cemetery in Litchfield Park was solely
about 10 miles away from the place she lived in southern Peoria. On the
time, Chesser remembers there being about 150 digital memorials created
for the cemetery on Discover a Grave.

“Once I determined to return down and have a look at these graves, I discovered that there was much more,” Chesser stated.

As she went from gravesite to gravesite, she began noticing three
letters on among the early burial markers at White Tanks: “UNK.” Solely
later did she uncover the that means: Unknown.

After doing extra analysis, Chesser realized that White Tanks Cemetery
is Maricopa County’s closing resting place for the unidentified, indigent
and unclaimed.

“I made a decision that these those that have rested right here wanted to be
identified, and I felt that they’d those that had been in search of them,”
Chesser stated.

Chesser started documenting the gravesites with paper and pen,
generally bringing a brush together with her to clear filth off of the grave
markers from monsoons for a greater look. After jotting down what
data might be seen on the grave marker and noting its location
throughout the cemetery, Chesser would return dwelling to her pc to create
digital memorials on Discover a Grave.

Someday, a girl from California contacted Chesser to thank her for
serving to discover a cousin who had been lacking for years and all alongside been
buried at White Tanks Cemetery. The lady described Chesser as an
“angel,” and from that time ahead she started going by “Desert Angel.”

The appreciation motivated Chesser to proceed documenting gravesites at White Tanks Cemetery.

Maricopa County’s unclaimed, unidentified and indigent

Underneath Arizona regulation, if nobody is prepared or financially capable of make
burial preparations, the county wherein a dying happens is required to
step in.

Whereas every scenario is exclusive, the method sometimes begins with a
well being care facility or health worker’s workplace calling one among three
funeral houses that associate with Maricopa County’s indigent decedent
companies program.

The funeral dwelling then shares what data it has with the county,
which begins attempting to find subsequent of kin by way of electronic mail, cellphone calls,
licensed mail, obituaries and generally social media, stated Michele
Castaneda-Martinez, who manages the indigent decedent companies program.

About 40% of the time, the search is profitable. However greater than half
the time, when nobody steps ahead to say the decedent and after a
minimal of 15 days, the county strikes ahead with a burial to make sure a
“well timed and dignified disposition,” Castaneda-Martinez stated.

If the decedent was a veteran, the county works with the Lacking in
America Undertaking for funeral preparations at a nationwide cemetery, or is
in any other case interred at White Tanks Cemetery, the place over 6,800 individuals have
been laid to relaxation since 1993.

Each Thursday at 8 a.m., one among a number of rotating chaplains
volunteers to steer a nondenominational ceremony earlier than that week’s
burials. And each Thanksgiving eve, André Home of Arizona hosts a
vigil to wish for individuals who have died.

“These decedents, regardless of how they could have arrived to us, aren’t
alone,” Castaneda-Martinez stated. “The neighborhood has come collectively to
be certain that.”

On the present charge, the county expects to have the ability to proceed
burials at White Tanks Cemetery for roughly 60 years, however
Castaneda-Martinez says there are alternatives that may prolong the lifetime
of the cemetery.

‘Dealing with actuality’

When Turner first clicked over to the Discover A Grave web site, she noticed
her grandmother’s title in an enormous white sans serif font together with particulars
about her life and a picture of her brick grave marker at White Tanks
Cemetery. She was suspicious of the data, however after confirming
her grandmother’s beginning and dying date, she decided its accuracy.

A graver aside from Chesser had documented the details about
Turner’s grandmother. However Turner nonetheless isn’t positive how her grandma ended
up at White Tanks Cemetery.

“I want we had been extra household oriented to have the ability to work collectively and
say, ‘Hey, grandma’s gone. Let’s lay her to relaxation appropriately the way in which she
wished it,’” Turner stated.

Whereas she wasn’t capable of give her grandma the funeral she would have
favored to, Turner stated she is grateful that somebody was capable of step
ahead and lay her grandma to relaxation.

“I really feel responsible,” Turner stated, “however she is aware of, life has not been straightforward for us.”

Turner, who now lives in an house in Tucson together with her husband and two younger youngsters, hasn’t visited her grandma’s gravesite but.

“I actually need to however then there’s that a part of me that’s like afraid as a result of that’s me going through actuality,” Turner stated.

Each time Turner is prepared, she’ll have the ability to discover her grandmother’s
gravesite positioned in lot 13 amongst a sea of crimson bricks, one among which
reads: “Joyce Maryanna Williams, 1/19/1947, 73.”