Like many other parents at the Ceremony of Remembrance on Saturday, Kathy Fortini stood around a stone bearing the name of her own child. She stared out into the ocean and said, “This place is perfect — it’s how he’d be looking out.”
Each stone at the Edgartown Lighthouse Children’s Memorial tells a story of a child’s life cut too short. This eighth annual ceremony honored all of the Vineyard children who have died; some Islanders, some frequent visitors.
Paul Fortini lived on the Island last summer and worked at Stop & Shop and the Edgartown Yacht Club. “He lived with his buddies,” Mrs. Fortini said. “Four boys in a house. He just loved the ocean and beach and sunrise. He really loved the Island. He especially loved talking to the older people at the Yacht Club — he always said that they had a lot of knowledge and experience.”
Paul Fortini was in his sophomore year at New York University when an automobile struck him last fall while he was crossing the Brooklyn Queens Expressway. Tomorrow will be the one-year anniversary of his death.
Bill Hanafin, of Duxbury, came with his wife to visit Paul Fortini’s memorial stone; the Hanafins’ son was one of Paul’s friends and past roommates. “We are here supporting his family,” said Mr. Hanafin.
“It’s sad to see how many of us are here to heal,” said Mrs. Fontini, as about 150 visitors spread around the perimeter of the lighthouse, some gathered in groups while others stood silently, alone. Flower petals of pink, yellow and purple were scattered around the granite platform.
Families held hands and comforted one another and children quieted down, as the new executive director of the Martha’s Vineyard Museum, David Nathans, opened the ceremony with the words, “A lighthouse: when it’s dark, it’s light, and when it’s light, it’s light.”
The museum manages the memorial, which has 2,000 granite cobblestones available to hold children’s names.
Nearly 500 of the stones already hold names, 30 of them new this year. According to Betsey Mayhew of the Children’s Memorial committee, thousands of people visit the memorial each year, a number that is rising now that the lighthouse has been reconstructed. Now visitors can go inside the lighthouse, which many did throughout the ceremony; some even viewed the ceremony from the more private spots atop the light.
“For some, the loss of a child is new, for others, it is something that will never go away,” Mrs. Mayhew said to the crowd on the cool, breezy afternoon. “This lighthouse will never go away.”
Mr. Nathans acknowledged Rick Harrington, the founder of the memorial, who was present at the ceremony and spoke briefly about his own grief and alleviation. He proposed the idea of the Children’s Memorial after his son Ricky was killed in an automobile accident in 1995.
Eugene and Chetta Kelley, both of Edgartown, went to Saturday’s ceremony to honor their son, Jonathan, who was taken from them at the age of 29. “Our son has a stone here. We lived in New York and he lived on the Vineyard — he loved the Vineyard very much. We have a house here now, and we come here in the fall and spring,” said Mr. Kelley. Having a stone in remembrance of his son at the lighthouse, Mr. Kelley said, was about remembering his son and how important the Vineyard was to him.
Anyone interested in purchasing a stone or additional information may call Betsey Mayhew at 508-627-4441.