Cyndi Vanderheiden was buried on Saturday under the shade of budding trees and next to a bench of iron horse shoes and wagon wheels, made in her memory.
The sun was shining as her mother, Terri Vanderheiden, laid her remains to rest, while John Vanderheiden, Cyndi’s father, looked on.
After 14 years of searching, Cyndi Vanderheiden, 25, was buried among family and friends at the Glen View Cemetery in Clements on a warm spring afternoon.
The memorial service for Vanderheiden, held Saturday at Lodi’s First Baptist Church on North Mills Avenue, boasted more than 200 attendees, including Vanderheiden’s sister, Kim Lovejoy, Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani and bounty hunter Leonard Padilla, who spent the past 14 years working with John Vanderheiden to bring his daughter home.
While tears were shed during prayers and poetry readings at the service, there were quite a few smiles from those in attendance both at Vanderheiden’s funeral and her burial.
One of the brightest smiles belonged to Vanderheiden’s mother, who with her husband and daughter Kim Lovejoy warmly greeted each and every person who walked through the doors to the church.
“For a while there, I was with them a lot, trying to just help them cope,” said Bill Vanderheiden, John Vanderheiden’s brother, of the years of emotional turmoil the family suffered while searching for Cyndi. “It was tough. But now, (Terri) is very much at ease.”
During the memorial service, Pastor Gary Standish, also a friend of the Vanderheiden family, read passages of scripture detailing the emotional trials the family went through during their 14-year ordeal in recovering Cyndi.
While reading from 1 Corinthians 15:55, he could barely contain his tears, reading softly as he wept.
“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” he read.
Standish also read excerpts from poems that highlighted Vanderheiden’s personality, which he described, amongst other traits, as fun, free-spirited and accepting.
“Cyndi has been gone for a long time, and here today we finally get to write the final part of the chapter of her life,” he said. “We get to turn a new page, but we also get to share (Cyndi’s life) together. ... Death is a terrible tragedy. No one can know what we really feel.”
Following Standish’s sermon, those who came to say good-bye to Cyndi listened to an original song written by Elizabeth M. Ayhens, called “Cyndi Angel Fly.”
In the chorus, Ayhens sang that 10,000 angels “cried” when Cyndi grew her “wings to fly” following her death.
As they listened, Terri and John Vanderheiden wiped away tears, and Lovejoy squeezed her mother’s hand.
“I want to thank you for all the hugs, and all the support,” Terri Vanderheiden said to those in attendance Saturday. “It has meant so much. Just ... thank you. Thank you.”
Once the service completed, dozens made the trek out to Glen View Cemetery where Cyndi Vanderheiden’s remains were carried in by her mother.
After laying her daughter’s remains down at the head of her grave, Terri Vanderheiden placed a single pink rose next to her daughter. Lovejoy did the same.
Kendall Lawson-Angotti, Vanderheiden’s lifelong friend, flew in from Las Vegas to attend the funeral.
Lawson-Angotti was able to place a bell, a pendant and other mementos inside the box that held Vanderheiden’s remains before the burial.
The bell was because Vanderheiden loved collecting them as a child, and the pendant was engraved with the women’s childhood nicknames for each other.
“She was my best friend. We even lived together before I moved to Las Vegas,” Lawson-Angotti said. “I miss her so much.”
As family and friends left the cemetery, the Vanderheidens released yellow balloons into the sunny sky.
One of Lovejoy’s young grandchildren would not let the balloon go.
Lovejoy began to spread the girl’s fingers apart, telling her it was OK to let go.
“It is for Aunt Cyndi,” Lovejoy said, as the little girl smiled and nodded, releasing the balloon.
Contact reporter Katie Nelson at firstname.lastname@example.org.