“Gone but Not Forgotten.” That’s the message symbolizing the importance and impact of the 16th Annual California Memorial Project Remembrance Ceremonies. Over 475 peers and community members came to honor and acknowledge people with psychiatric and developmental disabilities who lived and died at California state institutions. The ceremonies were held at 9 different sites throughout the state where they were buried, either on the grounds of the institutions or at local cemeteries. This year, they were held at Patton State Hospital, Metropolitan State Hospital, the Russian River Cemetery, Stockton Rural Cemetery, Sonoma Developmental Center, Agnews Developmental Center, Manteca and 2 sites at Napa State Hospital.
Sponsored by the Peer Self-Advocacy Program of Disability Rights California and People First of California, these events bring people together to remember the history and challenges people faced who were removed from the community by reason of disability. Community organizations, such as The Advocates, the ARC of Amador, Project Return – the Next Step, Our Way Wellness Center and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), and Mendocino County Supervisor John McCown and Senator Dodd’s office gathered to celebrate those who died without the respect and dignity they deserved.
The gazebo at Sonoma Developmental Center was beautifully decorated with paper doves and bouquets. Peers shared their personal stories of friends and family members and memories of lives lost. Some read poems in English and Spanish, while others performed music to celebrate the occasion. The Raging Grannies sang about remembering names, living for today and other songs of hope. Native American Chaplain Mickey Turtle led people at Patton State Hospital with a blessing of the ceremony, a smudging ritual and a talking circle, and guests painted rocks to honor their peers.
Gary Glatt flew from Canada to discover his uncle’s final resting place. He had died when he was 20 years old living at Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC). The SDC records department and executive director confirmed that his uncle, whom he never knew, was cremated and lay in a vault below a bench in the SDC cemetery with 500 others. After a statewide moment of silence, some walked to the burial grounds and placed flowers at the foot of monuments the California Memorial Project installed at the gravesites. It was an event filled with reflection on our past and hope for our future.