Anyone who visits the Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital can see the red tree sculptures that frame its “treehouse” entrance. Last fall, a new sculpture — the memory tree — was added to a small courtyard near the main entrance.
Colorful epoxy bugs and butterflies perch on the tree’s branches, bearing the names of 24 children whose families helped conceive the memory tree. Multi-colored metal leaves are etched with the names of the 148 children who died at Upstate since 2009, the year the children’s hospital opened.
“Most of our work with patients has happy endings,” says Leanna Severance RN, retired pediatric nurse-manager, “but not always.”
Since the children’s hospital opened, pediatric specialists have operated on 20,350 children, treated 91,202 in the emergency rooms, and been able to send 15,937 children home from hospital stays.
But, sometimes no amount of expert medical care can save a child, which is why this memory tree is so important. Leola Rodgers, children’s hospital administrator, explains. “We’ve always done something to remember each child. But we had a desire to offer something consistent, permanent and affirming to commemorate all the children who have died at Upstate.”
To craft a plan for a memorial for the new children’s hospital, Upstate’s family advisory council met with Severance, Rodgers and others.
AccuFab, Inc. of Ithaca was selected for the memorial project. Gary Wojik, president, describes the inspiration for the memory tree: “We were taken by the architect’s design, especially the treelike forms at the entrance of the children’s hospital. Our idea was to design something that related to the building, a sculpture with a lyrical bent, so anyone would feel comfortable and drawn to it. We wanted it to have a playful quality.
“Since ancient times, trees have symbolized life,” continues Wojik, “and are the perfect icon for this memorial.”
Prior to building the full-scale tree sculpture, AccuFab presented drawings and a model. A variety of metal leaves were created, and parents selected the types and colors to be added to the tree.
Stainless steel tubing was used for the tree sculpture because it is strong and relatively maintenance-free. The steel was given a non-reflective, random-brush finish to create a warm feel. The epoxy butterflies and bugs on the tree are based on the interior ornamentation of the children’s hospital.
A dedication ceremony for the memory tree sculpture was held on Sunday afternoon, Oct. 14. Patients’ families and Upstate staff and chaplains were in attendance. Among the speakers was Ran Anbar MD, chief of pediatric pulmonology. He shared the following with the 300 people who were there: “I’ve learned three things from the children for whom I have cared. First, most every child I have spoken with believes in continued existence after death,” he paused. “Secondly, children have helped me understand that we can communicate with loved ones who have passed, and receive answers. We can actually interact with them.”
In closing, Anbar described the third lesson: “The consequence of the first two is that irrespective of death, your relationship with your loved one can always continue to develop and grow.”
October 14 had started as a cold and rainy day. By afternoon, the sky was blue, and a warm sun shone on the memory tree, and the people around it.