Mothers’ loss fuels memorial bench project

Olivia and Ryan's benches sit close by on the Town Hall green. 

Photo: Kate BunsterOlivia and Ryan's benches sit close by on the Town Hall green. Photo: Kate Bunster

BY KATE BUNSTER

Gazette Reporter

NISKAYUNA — It is said that no mother should have to bury their child. For the ones that do, the devastation is unimaginable.

“When you lose a child, you join a club that nobody wants to be a part of,” said Niskayuna resident Sarah Bilofsky, whose late daughter Olivia would have turned 9 on Oct. 9 had she not died the morning after birth.

But recently, Bilofsky has used her loss to fuel a program in the town of Niskayuna that will allow fellow members of the club to memorialize their loved ones. Joining forces with her is Nicole Matlick, who also lost a child — her son Ryan M. Salamone, who was just 24 when he died of an unknown heart condition.

The idea came about over the summer when Bilofsky was waiting outside the Niskayuna Library with her two other daughters and noticed the memorial benches there.

“I thought that it would be so nice to have one in honor of Olivia,” said Bilofsky. Inspired, she took the idea to Matlick, who is the assistant to Town Supervisor Joe Landry.

Together, they decided to spearhead a program throughout the town of Niskayuna that would allow not just mothers but anyone who has lost a loved one to memorialize them with a bench somewhere in town.

Bilofsky and Matlick’s benches were the first to be installed. They now sit side-by-side on the town hall green. For Matlick, it’s a chance to look out her window while she is working at Town Hall and know her son is with her. She finds comfort in this and feels an instant connection when she sees it.

“I’m not saying it’s any easier to lose a child, but I know he’s with me every day. It makes it easier to have something psychical,” said Matlick.

Bilofsky uses the bench as a place to take her daughters to be with the sister they never got the chance to meet. “It’s so hard for them as kids to know they have an older sister, but she isn’t here,” said Bilofsky. She and her husband got coffee at Starbucks on the day of her birthday this year and sat at the bench together.

“It was a sunny fall morning. The leaves were coming down. It was perfect,” said Bilofsky. She looks forward to bringing family members from out of town to the bench when they visit to remember the little girl who lost her life too soon.

The benches Town Hall location is symbolic to Bilofsky.

“It’s very much in the center of our world. It’s a public place, but it’s in the center,” she said. “I love that there will be a place that [her other daughters] can go to.”

Another bench will be put installed at Lions Park in memory of Kathy Frokedal. It was donated by her best friend, who used to walk with her at the park every day.

The ornate 4-foot-long benches are made out of 100 percent recycled plastic material, “a dense, durable product that offers a long-lasting, attractive appearance that will not splinter or rot, and is resistant to mold and insects.” They will require no maintenance.

Benches can be accompanied with up to four lines of text on a 2.5” x 6” gold plastic plate to convey the gifter’s message. The $450 cost will cover the materials and shipping, in addition to the engraving and cementing processes.

Gifters can choose where they would like to have their bench placed, but it must be approved by the town. The town plans to have them installed throughout Niskayuna’s parks, if there is interest.

“They are a nice place to go to for people to remember their loved ones. I am very excited about this program,” said Matlick.

Anyone interested in a memorial bench can contact Matlick at 386-4516 or nmatlick@niskayuna.org.