Lifting Up Newtown

Published 5:00 pm Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A somber crowd at Brookhaven’s Silver Cross Nursing Home watched on a clear Wednesday morning as 26 balloons, 13 white and 13 green, floated up into the sky and out of sight, released in honor of the victims of last week’s school shooting in Newtown, Conn.

     “A great sadness has gripped the nation,” said the Rev. Zach Moak in a prayer.

     Surrounded by residents of the nursing home and some local elected officials on a porch behind Silver Cross, Moak further acknowledged the extent of that grief.

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     “We don’t have words to express our sadness,” he said. “We’ll never understand what happened.”

     During Wednesday morning’s brief ceremony, Mayor Les Bumgarner read the names of students and staff killed by a gunman Friday morning at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

     “It makes us realize how precious life is,” Bumgarner said.

     He encouraged the crowd to appreciate the gift of family.

     “Hugs your kids, grandkids,” he said.

     The ceremony concluded when residents released the 26 balloons, green and white for the school colors of Sandy Hook Elementary.

     Polly Smith, a Silver Cross resident, and Falicia Daggins, a nurse aide, organized Wednesday’s memorial ceremony.

     Though Brookhaven is far from Newtown, Conn., both women cited the biblical command to “love your neighbor” as part of their motivation in holding Wednesday’s memorial.

     “They are neighbors and they need our prayers,” Smith said.

     Both Smith and Daggins also described a deep feeling of empathy for the families and survivors of Friday’s shooting because of their own children and family members.

     “It’s just sad to put yourself in their place,” Smith said. “What if it were my children?”

     Daggins mentioned that she has children in the public school system and relatives who teach.

     A conversation between the two women sparked the idea for a memorial ceremony.

     “We were both tears falling talking about what was going on,” Daggins said of a talk with Smith.

     When presented with the idea, Activities Director Vernastine Byrd was instantly on board.

     “It touched my heart,” she said.