After Brian and Christine LeMaire´s baby boy Brandon died last October at 19 months, the Islip Terrace couple worried his memory would fade – not from their minds but from their friends´ and the community´s.
Christine LeMaire and about 20 other families who have suffered the death of a child took a step toward keeping those memories alive and in the public eye. They gathered on a warm and sun-drenched morning Friday in Eisenhower Park to break ground for a monument dedicated to children who have died and their families.
“For us, this means we have renewed hope for the future,” said Christine LeMaire, 32. “We know that Brandon is remembered and is OK and that he´s taken care of and that now, there´s a place where we can go.”
By the end of October, organizers said, the memorial will feature a 4-foot-tall statue dubbed the Angel of Hope. The cherub”s arms are outspread and its face gazes up to the sky. Located near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial at Parking Field 6, the statue will be surrounded by a stone balustrade built by donated union labor. Embedded in the ground will be bricks bearing the children´s names.
The idea for the statue came from author Richard Paul Evans´ book, “The Christmas Box,” which features a woman who mourns a child by visiting an angel statue in a Salt Lake City cemetery. The East Meadow statue´s cost is about $12,500, all raised privately and purchased through a group affiliated with Evans.
Bob Policastro, who runs two group homes in Suffolk for disabled children, led the monument effort, something he said he´s wanted on Long Island since his own daughter, Angela, died in 1990 at the age of 1.
“However they were taken, the pain we share is equal,” Policastro told the sometimes tearful audience. “Any child that passed away is a loss. This monument is to honor all of those children, and it is also to honor the parents and their loss.”
Just eight months ago, the idea for the memorial itself seemed to have died. Policastro, a Hauppauge resident, originally wanted it in Suffolk near the H. Lee Dennison county government building but that area wasn´t available, he said.
Last fall, Policastro happened to be in Eisenhower Park, visiting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial when he ran into an old friend of his father´s, Pasquale Cassetta, 81, a former electrical engineer who helped coordinate the building of Nassau´s 9/11 memorial. Policastro told Cassetta of his idea.
“I said, ‘Bobby, we gotta to do this,’” recalled Cassetta, who has had two of three children die – his 26-year-old son Vincent in a car crash, and a boy just five days old, never named.
Cassetta spoke with his contacts in the Nassau Department of Parks, Recreation and Museums, which approved the memorial immediately. On Friday, Policastro plunged a shovel into the small plot while Tara Ficken, 38, of Babylon, watched with her two children, Matthew, 6, and Kate, 4. Ficken´s daughter, Kelly, died in September 2005, age 6.
“We´ll be here again as a family to remember and to reflect,” Ficken said.
By Michael Amon
Newsday (July 21, 2008)