Children’s memorial offers families hope

Hybrid day of remembrance enables families to commemorate children they lost.

The pandemic has reminded us of the importance of coming together with and for those we love. A partly in-person, partly virtual day of remembrance ensured families could commune and remember their lost children during these already difficult times.

On Saturday, the Martha’s Vineyard Museum held the 19th annual Ceremony of Remembrance at the Edgartown Lighthouse Children’s Memorial. The memorial holds 875 stones honoring children of all ages, including 43 that were added during the past year. 

The Children’s Memorial was created in 2001. The original idea of placing stones at the base of the lighthouse belonged to Rick Harrington, who lost his 16-year-old son in an automobile accident. 

The ceremony is usually an hourlong event at the lighthouse, involving live music and speeches. This year, given the capacity limitations on public events, the ceremony was held as a day of remembrance, where families could come and go between 11 am and 2 pm. Spreading the ceremony over three hours ensured all families and community members could attend while maintaining social distancing rules.

In addition to the in-person event, a recorded speech by the museum’s interim executive director, Heather Seger, and the reading of the poem “A Lighthouse in the Distance” by MVM board chairman Cathy Weiss, were shared on the museum’s website in lieu of the traditional ceremony. 

“The museum is so honored to be stewards of this lighthouse, and in particular this memorial. It means a lot to us. It is just nice to be able to offer some way of supporting people who have lost a child,” Seger said.

Seger also stressed the importance of having a physical space where people can come together in times of need. “It is really nice to have this place where people can gather and remember with other families who have gone through the same type of thing. We are really honored to continue to do it, for as long as we can.”

Ann Davis, an Island resident who attended the ceremony for the first time this year to commemorate her daughter Michelle Rae Davis, said the memorial was meaningful not simply for its natural beauty but also because it brings people together. “To me, surrounded by this warmth of families who have experienced the same thing, it is just very special that the museum sponsored this,” Davis said. 

Davis was given a stone for her daughter by another family who lost a son, and already had a commemorative stone. That family was unable to attend this year, and therefore, Davis brought flowers not just for her daughter but also for that family’s son. “That just speaks to the closeness families feel when they lose a child,” Davis explained. 

Because of this year’s extraordinary circumstances, families were especially grateful to be able to gather at the memorial to remember those they lost. “It is irreplaceable. It is very, very important,” said Brandon and Kerri Kelly, who attended the memorial for the fifth time for their late son, Owen John Kelly. “You need things like this through times like this. For hope.”