Memorial bench program provides community solace

Photo provided:
Friends, neighbors and parents gather around Patrick Duff's memorial bench to celebrate his life and share some of their favorite memories of him.Photo provided: Friends, neighbors and parents gather around Patrick Duff's memorial bench to celebrate his life and share some of their favorite memories of him.

BY INDIANA NASH

Gazette Reporter

NISKAYUNA- The passing of a loved one, one, especially a child or other close family member, is a ceaselessly painful experience.
Sarah Bilofsky, one Niskayuna mother who has lost a child, said, “it’s a club you never want to join.”
However, the Town of Niskayuna’s memorial bench program aims to provide
families with a place to celebrate the lives of those they have lost.
“I was talking with another mother in the community who had recently lost her child and we were trying to figure out what would be a good place for people to go to remember their children or loved ones,” Nicole Salamone, the administrative assistant at Niskayuna Town Hall.
In 2014, the two mothers had recently lost children of their own and wanted to create a space where they felt welcome to stay and reflect on their children’s memories.
“We passed by some of the benches at the library and thought, ‘Hey, that’s kinda perfect!’ ” Salamone said.
Thus, she approached the Town Board about the idea and the first two benches were placed at Town Hall in June 2015.
Since then, the idea has spread across town: there are now benches as far as Lock 7 and the Old Niskayuna Train Station.
The benches are made from 100 percent recycled plastic, which eliminates the possibility
of rot.
Each bench also comes with a plaque that the family can sign in any way they’d like. Each costs $450 to buy and install.
“That covers the entire cost of the bench and the plaque. The labor of installing it is donated by the town,” Salamone said.

“It’s a club that no one really wants to be a part of, but I love looking out at the bench and having a place that is his,” Salamone said of the bench that memorializes her son at Niskayuna’s Town Hall.
Another family (and neighborhood) has found comfort in the bench dedicated to Patrick Duff that sits in Lyons Park. Duff died in a car accident in 2015. When friends and neighbors learned of his death, they wanted to come together to comfort his parents, Kathleen and Thomas.
Kathleen Stachnick, Barbara Nottke and Diane Yoder were all neighbors and friend of the Duffs who brought the rest of the neighborhood together to purchase a bench in memory of Patrick.
“Little did we expect to receive an overwhelming response totaling 40 neighbors and Pat’s neighborhood high school friends who wanted to participate,” Stachnick said.
Shortly after the bench’s installation, the neighborhood came together in May
of this year for a dedication ceremony, many sharing stories of their memories
with Patrick.
“I don’t know anyone who has ever said the name Patrick Duff (or whatever iteration of nickname you knew him by) without a smile. I have always loved Patrick stories and am looking forward to hearing all the Patrick stories. Don’t ever stop telling them,” Yoder said.
The bench serves as a place for not only the family to come together and celebrate Patrick, but his friends and community members as well.
“It is more than a memorial, it is a place to sit, reflect and remember a dear life gone too soon. We hope all who visit there will read the memorial plaque, think about the blessing in their lives … and enjoy the view,” Stachnick said.
Sarah Bilofsky was one of the first people to order a bench, in memory of her daughter Olivia Meyers.
“Part of why we did it was so that our surviving children (Stella, 8, and Victoria, 5) would have a place to remember the sister they never met. Loved that it is near the high school and library — sort of the ‘center’ of Niskayuna,” Bilofsky said.
Now the family returns to the bench to remember Olivia on the anniversary of her death each year.
Although as Bilofsky said, “the club” of those who have lost a loved one is one that nobody wants to join, the memorial bench program has helped many families to ease the burden of being a member of that club.