Day of Remembrance at Maple Grove Honors the Dead with a Celebration of Life

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Day of Remembrance Slide Show
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by DIANA SHAMAN

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Maple Grove Cemetery's annual Day of Remembrance and Lantern Festival was held this year on September 20 on a golden late summer evening just as dusk was beginning to fall over the land marked cemetery's rolling hills and fields.

The tradition dates back to September 2004 when the first such event was held by the non-sectarian cemetery to commemorate the dead. Those attending the annual event include those with loved ones buried at Maple Grove as well as those who simply wish to remember their dead. Everyone is invited to participate. "We want to honor everyone," said Linda Mayo-Perez, the cemetery's president and chief executive officer.

The ceremony began with the wailing sound of bagpipes played by Anthony Paolicelli and Edward Cameron who led participants from the cemetery entrance on Kew Gardens Road to the third of what eventually will be a total of five so-called Story Stones that are dedicated each year on this Day of Remembrance. The boulders, quarried from the cemetery's own grounds, honor the victims of the typhoid epidemic that swept through New York City at the turn of the century who lie buried here in unmarked graves.

Donna Henes, a spiritualist affectionately known as Mama Donna to her admirers, sprinkled earth on the boulder which bears a legend that reads in part, "While one life may be finite, the whole of life-in all its forms--carries from past to present to a future without end."

The earth, which Ms. Henes collects from sites around the globe, is meant to symbolize the brotherhood of all human beings. She handed out kernels of blue corn which represent dedication to the truth. Father Charles McCarron, pastor of the Church of the Resurrection in Richmond Hill, said a prayer as part of the boulder's dedication.

From the Story Stone, participants again led by the wailing sound of the bagpipes, made their way to the Presidents' Circle which memorializes former presidents of Maple Grove and also includes a 911 Remembrance Garden erected in 2002 to honor the 23 911 victims who are buried in Maple Grove. From there the procession proceeded to the nearby lake where lanterns were distributed. Participants were encouraged to write their own thoughts and memories on the paper sides of their lanterns before the candles were lit.

The messages were poignant. "Mutti-Papi, Omi-Opa, Love;" "Peace, Gladys my grandma;" "My Dad, Love you;" "Hope for Uncle Danny to be cancer free;" "Dad, I love you & miss you, Mike." With their candles flickering, the 50 lanterns were launched on the lake.

Although it was a sad occasion as participants remembered their loved ones, it was also one that celebrated life as the lanterns with their messages symbolized eternal life and the vanquishing of death and children skipped and played around a nearby labyrinth of stones.As the lanterns bobbed around the lake blown by a gentle breeze, a sky streaked with crimson and yellow illuminated the darkening trees.

Maple Grove belongs to the Rural Cemetery Movement, a movement that takes cemeteries out of the realm of "gloomy places where people did not want to go," to places where the living can go to heal "and celebrate life," Ms. Mayo-Perez said.

A new building, The Center at Maple Grove Cemetery, intended to provide "a refuge for the spirit, a place of comfort, inspiration and remembrance," is currently being completed on Kew Gardens Road, with a dedication and ribbon cutting to be held on Friday, October 19.

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