Remembering those they lost: Marco Island marks 20th Christmas Box Angel memorial service

Parents and grandparents who have experienced the death of a child or grandchild attended the 20th Marco Island Christmas Box Angel Memorial Service on Friday at the local cemetery.

Inspired by the best-selling book "The Christmas Box," it was inaugurated in 2000 to honor and pay tribute to children who died before their parents, according to Keith Dameron, committee chairman.

"We lost our son Dean in 2003, he was 35-years-old," Dameron said. "It was sudden and grieving over a lost child never ends and it shouldn't end."

It's important that (parents) have a better understanding of what grief is and what they can do to deal with it, to cope with it."

Dean was a journalism graduate and very handsome, Dameron said.

"He thought he looked like Elvis Presley, I think," Dameron said. "He had just all kinds of Elvis memorabilia that he collected."

"He just sat down and died of a heart attack."

From 2018:Families remember loved ones at Christmas Box Angel memorial service on Marco Island

The death of a child, no matter their age, stays with a parent forever, Dameron said.

"All we can do is deal with it and that's what these wonderful people are doing today," Dameron said. "They are dealing with a significant event in their lives and it will be with them until the day they are gone."

As part of the ceremony, the names of dozens of children were read out loud while people light up candles.

Tyler Beck and Steve Boge were some of the names read. While some died as babies other did as adults.

A man and a woman hold lighted candles during the 20th Marco Island Christmas Box Angel Memorial Service at the local cemetery on Dec. 6.

There are eight Christmas Box Angels in Florida and Marco has one of them, Dameron said. The closest one is in Tampa.

"One of the things we are trying to do this year and the next will be to let everyone know in Southwest Florida that this is here and that they can come to this very special place," Dameron said

The fencing of the one in Marco was removed and the garden was redone recently, according to Dameron.

"We are going to begin a fundraising campaign to raise $10,000 and that money is going to go to redoing the plaza," Dameron said. "All the pavers [...] are settling in and that's a major expense."

Hurricane Irma covered the angel statue itself with a dark residue when it made landfall on Marco, Dameron said. The organization plans to hire an expert to clean the statue to bring about its original green color.

"Then we are going to have the inscription filled-in with gold lettering so that people can read it, Dameron said.

Dameron also read a poem dedicated to people who have lost loved ones.

"We can shed tears that he is gone or we can smile that he lived," Dameron said. "We can close our eyes and pray that he comes back or we can open our eyes and see all that he has left.

"Our hearts can be empty because we can't see him or we can be full of the love we shared."

People interested in placing an Angel Memorial brick for a child who has died can call Tica Barrett of the Marco Island Cemetery Office at 239-394-3469.

Inspired in the book The Christmas Box by Richard Paul Evans, Marco Island's Christmas Box Angel was inaugurated in 2000 to provide a place for parents and grandparents to remember their children and grandchildren who have passed away. In the picture, attendants of the memorial service left flowers by the angel statue at the local cemetery on Dec. 6, 2019.