NORTH TONAWANDA – Parents who have had to deal with the loss of a child have joined together in shared grief and hope to create the Children’s Remembrance Garden Walk in Brauer Park, next to City Hall, 216 Payne Ave. Ground will be broken for the new garden at 6 p.m. Friday.
Envisioned as a place of quiet solitude, healing and communion with nature, the garden is designed to provide an enduring memorial for those who have experienced the loss of a child of any age.
The Children’s Remembrance Garden Walk was unanimously endorsed by the Common Council on May 17.
Landscape architect Frank T. Brezenski donated his time to create a rendering of the garden, which will contain a walkway to lead visitors through seasonal gardens, with benches along the way, trees and a pergola that will be filled with engraved plaques designed to provide a lasting shared memory of a child.
MaryBeth Kupiec, a co-chair of the planning committee, lost her son Brandon three years ago. She said he died quite unexpectedly in his sleep at only 20 years old.
“Three years later, it is still pretty tragic,” said Kupiec, her voice breaking off.
She said of the garden walk, “We’d like a place people can go just to remember.”
Co-chair Paula Benedyczak lost her son Jordan at age 16.
The two women found out just how many others had lost children when they started the committee. They also found support from each other.
Kupiec said she and Benedyczak went to high school together, as did their husbands, but lost track of each other over the years. She said their paths crossed again when their sons died.
“After her son died, we started seeing each other a little more, and when my son died, she was the first one at my front door,” said Kupiec. “We’ve stayed very close.”
Benedyczak went to Mayor Arthur G. Pappas with the idea to plant a tree in her son’s memory. Apparently many people have had the same idea.
Pappas said he formed the committee a year ago to create a lasting memorial for anyone who had lost a child of any age.
Pappas and his wife were elementary school teachers in the Starpoint district and saw first hand the tragic loss of two young children who had died in a car accident in Canada.
They were able to take time to remember these boys after seeing their names at the Children’s Memorial Garden in Lockport. Pappas said he thought they could do something like it in North Tonawanda.
Kupiec said she and Benedyczak and 12 others stepped forward to serve on the committee and everyone has remained committed, including the father of those two boys.
Kupiec said the plan is to have a garden that embraces all four seasons, with spring, summer, fall and winter areas
She said they fell short of a plan to open before Mother’s Day, but hope that in the future this garden will be a gathering place where they can have an event each year before Mother’s Day.
“Possibly we can all bring a plant, an annual, that will last all year in memory of our child,” Kupiec said.
She said Miris Lumber donated the wood that will be used to build the pergola.
“You can have whatever you want to say in memory of your loved one,” Kupiec said of the plaques, which they are selling on their website for $100.
She said the pergola will hold 400 plaques, but she said they can add on if necessary in the future.
“We want you to enter through the garden, walk through the pergola and see all the names,” she said.
A centerpiece of the design will be a metal sculpture of doves flying, which they hope to unveil when the garden is ready to open.
“It’s been a long process and we’re really eager to put a shovel in the ground,” said Kupiec. “All the people and businesses that have stepped up have just been remarkable,” Kupiec said.
She said by working together as bereaved parents they all understand what the other parents are going through, which has been a big help in their grieving process.
“We all agree on the same thing – we don’t want our children to be forgotten,” Kupiec said. “What a beautiful way to carry their memories in this garden. They will never be forgotten.”
More information about the garden walk and ordering a memorial plaque is available on their group’s website at www.ntrtc.org. There is also a North Tonawanda Children’s Remembrance Garden Facebook page to keep track of upcoming activities.