“Each brick has a story to tell”: Oceanfront memorial for those who battled cancer now filled to capacity!!!!

Eric Hodies’ mom’s memorial brick, lower left, and his wife’s mother’s brick, above right, are two of the 4,000 memorials lining the walkway of Buff’s Garden in Virginia Beach. (Eric Hodies)

Twenty-one years ago, my mom passed away from cancer. Thirty-two years ago, my wife’s mother passed away from cancer. Though the women are buried in cemeteries 600 miles apart, their memorials lie side-by-side.

The two bricks honoring our mothers are part of the 4,000 bricks that line the walkway at Buff’s Garden at 47th Street and Ocean Front Avenue.

The garden is dedicated to Buff Taylor Koch, who succumbed to breast cancer at the age of 41. To honor Koch, the Buff Foundation was formed in the fall of 1997, and the first bricks were set in place on April 25, 1998.

For the past 19 years, the Blessing of the Bricks has been held under the arbor each April and October – a total of 38 ceremonies. Remarkably, there was only one weather delay during that span of time.

On April 30, the 38th Blessing of the Bricks was held on a warm, sunny afternoon, with an overflow crowd stretching from the beach to Ocean Front Avenue.

It was also the last blessing, as the 166 bricks dedicated that day have filled the walkway to capacity.

Initially, the bricks honored those who battled cancer. Over the years, family and friends who lost their lives to other illnesses and injury were included. There are also plenty of memorials to family pets.

“Each brick has a story to tell,” said foundation executive director Melanie Rice. “For many, the garden becomes a healing spot, and people feel a little better each time they visit.”

According to Rice, the postman who had Buff’s Garden on his route made it a point to stop each day to pick up trash and keep the area tidy. When the postman’s mother in Germany passed away, he bought a brick to honor her.

That brick is the only one of 4,000 that faces east – toward Germany. All others face west.

Tommy LaFosse is the brick mason who carefully set nearly every one of the 4,000 bricks, according to Rice. He was honored with his own brick at the entrance to the garden.

The garden is also a place for the community to gather for happy occasions, including baptisms, proposals and weddings. And when storms cover the walkway with several feet of sand, volunteers arrive in bunches to help shovel and sweep it clear.

Though cemeteries are a peaceful place to sit and have a quiet moment to think, I feel closer to nature at Buff’s Garden. The beautiful landscaping offers spiritual reflection and emphasizes life over death.

Of course, the dreaded c-word knows no boundaries and takes what it wants, including my wife’s mother at the young age of 57. My mom passed away on Feb. 29, 1996. Because it was Leap Day, she passed only hours short of her retirement day.

In Buff’s Garden, I find some solace that our mothers are surrounded by memorials to many other mothers who also lost their lives to cancer.

Buff’s Garden has been maintained through the sale of bricks, but now it needs help. The Buff Foundation estimates maintenance costs at $12,000 per year. For information, visit www.buffsgarden.com.

Eric Hodies is a freelancer writer who lives in the Kempsville area of Virginia Beach. Reach him at ehodies@hteam.net.