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ROCKLAND COUNTY COMPASSIONATE FRIENDS
CHILDREN’S MEMORIAL DAY

SEPTEMBER 10, 2000


CHILDREN'S MEMORIAL DAY Young lives mourned

LAURA FASBACH
THE JOURNAL NEWS



Liam Reda would have turned 5 today. Last week he would have entered kindergarten.
Two months ago, he would have met his newborn sister. For parents Lourdes and Bill Reda, the what-ifs and would-have-beens have run through their minds every day since their son died from a brain tumor a year-and-a-half ago. "Instead of celebrating a birthday, I came here instead," said Lourdes Reda, whose family was among 65 relatives and friends who turned out for the ninth annual Children's Memorial Day yesterday at Veterans Memorial Park in Orangetown.

The two-hour service, organized through the Compassionate Friends Rockland County chapter, included songs, readings and a balloon send-off to celebrate the lives of children who have died. The local group serves as a support network for parents and siblings coping with the grieving process after the loss of their loved ones. The Redas attended their first meeting about a month after their son died in 1998. Like other parents, the Airmont couple found their own family and friends could only provide so much support. Talking with other parents who have lost a child has helped the healing process. Recently a new member of the support group asked Lourdes Reda how she has coped since Liam's death. "I told her it's an everyday struggle," said Reda, who has two daughters, 3-year-old Caitlin and 2-month-old Emily.

By helping others, the members help themselves in learning to cope with the death of a child, said Jan Gifford, a former chapter leader of the Compassionate Friends. Gifford turned for support 13 years ago after her 21-year-old daughter died in a car accident. "We always say it's the last group in the world that someone wants to join," Gifford said. "But there is such solace to be found in this group." Gifford said when she would talk to friends about her daughter's death, she was often told it would take a year to get over the grief. Those words stung for the New City woman. "Your pain is your pain and it can't be judged by anyone else," Gifford said.

The Redas have found comfort helping other middle-class families deal with the financial strains that a serious illness brings. They have established the Liam Reda Foundation, which holds a fund-raising golf outing today at 8 a.m. at Philip J. Rotella Municipal Golf Course in Thiells.

Some parents, siblings and grandparents attend meetings soon after the death in the family occurs. Often many family members stay affiliated in the group in an effort to help others going through similar situations. "It's not because they are wallowing in grief, but because they want to stay and help other people," she said. Even for those who stop attending meetings, the annual Memorial Day tends to draw families back.

"There are people who would rather come here than a cemetery," said Lorraine Wilson of Pearl River. In 1984, Wilson's 14-year-old son drowned in a canoeing accident. After regularly visiting the cemetery where her son was buried, Wilson began to work with Kathy Siegel to create the Children's Memorial Garden at the Orangetown park nine years ago. Siegel, who lives in Bardonia, suffered the loss of her son, Vincent, who died in an accident fall in 1983 at age 17.

Located near a pond, the garden is lined with plaques bearing the names of children who have died.

At the end of the ceremony yesterday, Jan Gifford led the group in the balloon send-off. Each relative was given a colorful balloon in which the names of the deceased were written. "Whenever you feel ready to let go, please do so," Gifford said. Slowly, each balloon rose into the sky.










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