One year after the death of 3-year-old Maksym Sugorovskiy, his family returned to the site of the crash in Delaware Park that claimed his life. Not to grieve, but to celebrate his life.
“I never would’ve imagined waking up this morning to not hearing Maksym’s sweet, precious little footsteps coming down our stairs,” said Maksym’s mother, Mary. “However, though, today is not about me. It’s not about my grief. It’s not about Maksym’s death. It’s not about what happened here or even how it happened. This is about Maksym and Maksym’s life.”
Maksym was struck May 30, 2015, on the park’s Ring Road by a vehicle whose driver had reportedly fallen asleep. The vehicle left the Scajaquada Expressway, Route 198, and continued straight into the park where Mary Sugorovskiy was walking with her children after a soccer game.
After the crash, the speed limit on the entire length of the Scajaquada was lowered to 30 mph from 50 mph, and jersey barriers were immediately installed along the park. Sometime in 2018, the Scajaquada corridor will likely be downsized into a low-speed, urban boulevard with two lanes in each direction.
But a memorial gathering Monday evening was all about the boy, and the extraordinary impact he left on others in just 3½ years.
Mary Sugorovskiy recalled the hours before the crash, when Maksym asked to be hugged extra long and tightly – so tight she could feel his beating heart. She recalled walking joyfully in the park, as “helicopter” maple seeds twirled from above. And she recalled the efforts of bystanders who tried to revive Makysm.
But a mother’s sorrow gave way to smiles as she shared a series of memories, first recalling Maksym’s close relationship with his older sister, Stephanie, 6, who was also injured in the crash.
“As we think of Maksym, we still can’t help but smile even through the tears as we remember things like the inseparable, loving bond he had with his sister who he called ‘Stephie,’ ” she said.
She smiled as she remembered Maksym standing at the top of stairs wearing a cape and shouting “I am Bumblebee Boy!” – a character from a favorite book.
She smiled at memories of him singing in the backseat of the car, hiding under the dining room table and jumping in rain puddles.
“He loved those puddles so much,” his mother said. “He just couldn’t help himself from getting right in there, even if it meant getting his nice clothes wet.”
She smiled at the memory of Maksym fastening his little brown Velcro sneakers on the wrong feet and saying “Well, I’m all ready to go!”
She smiled at a newfound meaning behind Maksym’s favorite song from a Winnie the Pooh movie when a character sings, “One thing you should know, no matter where I go, we’ll always be together forever and ever.”
And she smiled at memories of Maksym watching “the ickiest, the stickiest and the slimiest reptile YouTube videos ever, while Stephanie and I sat next to him and cringed.”
“These are the moments we treasure and they’re only just a few of the gems that were sprinkled over our life each and every day,” she said. “Without Maksym, our house just seems so empty and it hasn’t felt like home. But our hearts are filled with memories of the greatest gift we could’ve ever been given.”
Also during the memorial Monday, the Ring Road was designated by the City of Buffalo as “Maksym Sugorovskiy Way” and a trailblazing sign was placed on a nearby light pole.
His mother said she hopes parkgoers take the sign as inspiration to live life “Maksym’s way,” full of kindness and selflessness.
A bench was unveiled near the site of the crash. A plaque on the bench is inscribed with the boy’s name and “We will never forget his kind, gentle, and caring little soul.” And a red maple was planted behind the bench in Maksym’s memory.
“Let us look at this tree as a symbol of how Maksym’s spirit is filled with new life and new growth,” Mary Sugorovskiy said.
Some of the last words at Monday’s memorial belonged to his big sister, Stephanie.
“I wish you were still here with me, but I will always remember that you were the best brother in the world and my hero,” she read from a handwritten page. “I love you and miss you. Love, Stephie.”