By ALVIN REINER
---- — WILLSBORO — A Christmas Box Angel now spreads her wings in the Children’s Memorial Healing Garden here to help provide solace to those who have lost youngsters.
“This makes 122 angels,” Christmas Box Angel of Hope Coordinator Lisa Johnson told those gathered to dedicate the statue and garden at the recent event at Willsboro Memorial Cemetery on Essex Road (Route 22).
“Each one is very unique,” she said. “I personally feel the spirit that surrounds each angel comes from the children who have passed.”
Johnson, who traveled from Salt Lake City to take part, said this was the eighth angel in New York state and that one was recently dedicated in Japan to memorialize the children lost in the catastrophic tsunami there.
And another one will be unveiled in December at Newtown, Conn., to help bring comfort to the loved ones of those killed in the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School last year.
Peter Herrick Rowley and his wife, Sandi Lee Craig, lost their teenage son, Craig Austin Rowley, in 1987, when he was hit by an out-of-control car while tending to a garden near a road in Willsboro.
“This is an eventful moment for us,” Rowley welcomed the crowd in the garden. “This event did not happen overnight, but started four years ago when a committee was formed, mostly of bereaved parents. The community has been very generous.
“This is an emotional day for me and a lot of us.”
Lori Provost, who lost her son, Andy, 24 years ago, fought back tears as she said, “We would not be here today if it was not for determination.
“This shows just how important the garden is in keeping memories alive. Our children are up in heaven, and we smile and know they have not been forgotten.
“This statue is for the love I have for my son. I’ll never know why God chose Andrew or the path I have taken.”
PLACE OF SANCTUARY
According to a Healing Garden pamphlet, the intention is to “provide a place of comfort and sanctuary to help people process their grief after the death of a child. It is a memorial to those children and a place for family and friends to gather.”
The statue, derived from the best-seller “The Christmas Box” by Richard Paul Evans, stands in many spots around the country where people can mourn and remember children who have died. It was created by sculptor Ortho Fairbanks upon the request Evans.
In the North Country, Christmas Box Angels are also located on the grounds of Adirondack Medical Center in Saranac Lake, Riverview Cemetery in Chazy and in the Circle of Healing and Hope at CVPH Medical Center.
There are plans under way for a similar project in Moriah.
Craig said the committee wanted to create a memorial rather than a cemetery, a “place to seek peace, solace and beauty and to contemplate nature.”
She urged everyone “to have more compassion for others,” and reflected on what it must have been like for parents in the past when diseases would wipe out several children in a family.
“If they could make it, so could I.”
An unintended but most apropos highlight of the event was when 3-year-old Ariel Kerr gazed at the unveiled statue and spread her arms to mimic the outspread wings.
The ceremony included prayers of dedication by the Revs. Chilton McPheeters, Jonathan Lange, John Demo and Jan Jorgensen.
A benediction was delivered by the Rev. Barbara Hoffman. Provost was given the honor of unveiling the statue.
Those gathered placed white carnations at the base of the statue’s pedestal. And, as Muriel Kerr played the cello, white memorial balloons, many with messages inside, slowly, but most assuredly, ascended into the heavens.
Email Alvin Reiner: email@example.com
MORE ABOUT THE ANGEL
The cost of Willsboro's bronze Christmas Box Angel of Hope was $14,500, with an additional $4,000 for the pedestal.
The gristmill (base of the pedestal) was donated by the family of Sgt. Justin Wrisley Garvey, who was killed in the Iraq War in 2003.
Funds are still needed to complete other aspects of the garden. A labyrinth has been created in the lawn of the garden, and a wall is to be constructed that will include stones with the names of loved ones inscribed on them. Additional plans for the site call for a gazebo, memorial benches and a variety of perennial flowering plants and shrubs.
For more information, contact Lawrence Allen at 572-6659 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Contributions may be sent to: Champlain Nat. Bank, c/o Healing Garden Memorial Garden, Willsboro, NY 12996.