Families and loved ones gathered at the Edgartown Lighthouse Children’s Memorial for the annual Celebration of Remembrance on Saturday afternoon. The ceremony, held every September, was started by Rick Harrington 18 years ago in honor of his son, Ricky Harrington III. The memorial added 39 new names this year, and now holds 849 stones honoring children of all ages from all over the country.
Harrington said when he saw the deteriorated state of the Edgartown Lighthouse, he had the idea about fixing it up and creating a space for bereaved parents. “I just thought this would be a great place to celebrate a child’s life, under the light of the lighthouse by the ocean,” Harrington said.
Kathy Jurgens of Needham choked back tears as she talked about what the memorial for her son Kevin means to her and her family. “It’s a beautiful place to put an end to sadness,” she told The Times. Behind her, her grandchildren Grace, 7, Michael, 5, and Charlie, 8, decorated Kevin’s memorial stone with shells collected from the beach. This is the Jurgens’ sixth year at the Celebration of Remembrance, and it’s become a family tradition.
All around the lighthouse, similar scenes unfolded, with loved ones brushing sand from the engraved letters and placing shells, flowers, and other memorabilia around the stones.
Bella Carrillo, who works at the Edgartown Lighthouse for the museum, said, “We call it the seagull supper table, because it’s a mixture between life and death. Seagulls come here and crack their shells, sand weathers it, and it’s outside and under the sun. It’s just a nice place to be instead of a graveyard.”
At about 1 pm, Lucy Mayhew’s somber singing ushered the group to the ceremony, and Betsey Mayhew of the Martha’s Vineyard Museum then began the remembrance, thanking the town of Edgartown and the museum who make the memorial possible. Chris Murphy, who is on the board of directors for the museum, also spoke. “I stand here, and I tear up just looking at any one of these bricks,” Murphy told the crowd.
Lucy Mayhew then sang “Tears in Heaven” by Eric Clapton, triggering an emotional moment for the families, before the Rev. John Schule said a prayer.
After the ceremony, first-year attendees Jim and Sabrina Howell of Sherborn placed photos of their son Kyle around his memorial. They stood over the stone, taking in the atmosphere. “It’s very moving,” Jim said, who said he found out about the memorial through a grieving group for fathers called Forever Fathers. “It’s an amazing tribute to children who left us too soon.” His wife Sabrina added, “It’s an unbelievable place for a memorial, at the ocean. We all share the same sadness.”
Lighthouse keeper Wade Johnson, who is best known as the man who is always smiling and telling visitors stories of the lighthouse, told The Times that the ceremony “is special because it brings together in one setting a community of people who share a painful commonality but have found relief from their grief in the comfort of others who have undergone a similar experience … We have seen through the many years of commemoration a promise that [Harrington] made to his son, in that he would take his memory and share it with others.”
The ceremony marks a period where no stones will be added to the memorial, which lasts until Memorial Day. Stones may be purchased by contacting Betsey Mayhew at the Martha’s Vineyard Museum, firstname.lastname@example.org, or by calling 508-627-4441, ext. 112.