‘I got a phone call asking, “Do you do funeral work? We want to warn you, it’s for a baby.”’
“The original intent of my company was just bridal flower preservation. In 2016, I got a phone call and said, ‘Do you do funeral work? We want to warn you it’s for a baby.’ In came Kyleigh Hope’s flowers. She opened my eyes to the loss world. I preserved the funeral flowers. It was surreal that I was touching the flowers from the coffin of a baby. We originally told the family about pricing, and when we finished, we felt like it wasn’t right to charge.
“Preserving Kyleigh’s funeral flowers started the Angel Baby program. It felt so right. Families that suffered loss just had to make so many terrible decisions and had to pay terrible costs. Each year we probably get about 100 new children.
“Because I’m a non-loss mom, loss families learn to circle up with other loss families. I call myself an imposter. People who haven’t experienced a loss like that often can say cruel things without the intention of being cruel. Things like, ‘they’re in a better place,’ or ‘it happened for a reason,’ or ‘you can have another baby.’ These things are meant to make another person feel better, but they often feel worse. Some tend to not bring up the child anymore because bringing up the child will bring tears and pain. They’re kindly trying to avoid doing that but it’s more hurtful.
“We are creating an Angel Baby Garden in Patchogue. The green house will be built this year and will be a sanctuary, very memorial-esq. It will be a tall glass place to let the light in. There will be two grieving angels when you walk in. In the back there will be a fireplace with candles and a bookshelf. The bookshelf will have all the books of all the children and stories that the parents are writing of each of their child. Parents have no rules or restrictions and can write about their child’s past, present, or future. You’ll be able to go in the garden and read about these children. We have about four stories so far. It’s a tough book to write for the parents so we tell them, ‘When you’re ready you can put the book in.’ We have almost 400 angels. I can’t ever fully tell all their stories to everyone. This will be a way to keep their stories going so other families can read. You never know which book you are going to pull.
To realize that while I’m complaining about the dishes in the sink, 15 minutes away from me a mom is cradling her child for the last time. It’s a really awakening moment for me.
“Most of these angels are from Long Island. This made me a softer person. To realize that while I’m complaining about the dishes in the sink, 15 minutes away from me a mom is cradling her child for the last time. It’s a really awakening moment for me. I tell everyone I walk the world a lot softer.
“Our annual vigil started as a banquet. As the families left our first banquet, we had a police escort that took us on a parade through Main Street in Patchogue. We lit Main Street alone with 3,500 candles. I couldn’t believe we pulled it off. Then COVID came and we couldn’t have a banquet. I started to think about how I can still do this with social distancing and make sure everyone felt safe. I always saved a picture of this field and said, ‘Maybe we’ll do a banquet in this field one day.’
“We spaced out the rows seven feet apart. The first vigil we had 8,000 candles in the field at Shorefront Park in Patchogue. Each year I egg myself on to do more. We went on to 16,000. Somebody joked and said, ‘What are you going to do next year, 30,000?’ We did 35,000 candles this year. The candles represent the lives we celebrate.
“We use battery-operated tea lights and save them each year. They go into thousands of recycled jars, and we cricut the names in waterproof vinyl on all the jars. Every angel has at least 10 jars with their names on it. We have Kindergarten classes that write names, honor society, lots of people who are willing to help.
“The vigil pretty much covers the whole shoreline of Shorefront Park. We doubled in size from last year to this year. We had two drones shooting pictures this year. I wanted the view from heaven. I wanted the families to see what their kids see. It’s unreal to see the whole field aglow.
“There’s no speeches or ceremony at the vigil. Everyone can come and go. The world pauses and you can come and go as needed. It’s important for someone in grief, because for them it’s about pausing and being for a moment and acknowledging grief.
“A lot of people tell me they can’t go to the vigil because it’s too sad. But when you stare at grief in the face it’s beautiful. To do that with people who have to stare at it alone and ask people to come with them and look at it, that’s beautiful to see.
Interviewed by Tracey Cheek