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Tag Archives: Willowbrook Cemetery
Joseph Ariale led quite a life.
A project manager at GE Capital and longtime Norwalker, he did it all: handing out flags at the Memorial Day parade, volunteering at the Oyster Festival, supporting children’s organizations.
He was a golfer and tennis player; a kind, generous and spirited man; a devoted grandfather who never missed a dance recital, sports game or any other event.
Joseph died last week, after battling cancer and pulmonary fibrosis. As a Korean War veteran, he was entitled to a full military funeral. A bugler should have played “Taps,” and presented an American flag to his family.
But Joseph died in the middle of a pandemic. Instead of being mourned by hundreds of family members, friends and fans, there was no celebration of life.
Following CDC guidelines, his burial at Willowbrook Cemetery was limited to 8 people. Pallbearers wore N95 masks.
The coronavirus has changed the way everyone lives. Now it’s affecting what happens even after we die.
Joseph’s final goodbye on Friday was not the only one at the beautiful cemetery on North Main Street, opposite Cross Highway.
A few hours earlier, another tiny crowd said goodbye to Connie Wilds. She earned 2 master’s degrees. She served Western Connecticut State University for over 30 years, as a professor of black studies and dean of student affairs. She sang in her church choir, and was a founder of the Stamford Afro-Democratic Committee.
Her entombment was witnessed by only 5 people — including funeral staff. That left only her son William, and his wife Daisy, to bid their final farewell.
“This is surreal,” William said. “We can’t give my mother a proper sendoff.”
Even more sorrowfully, the few mourners must stay 6 feet apart. They can’t hug, or offer a literal shoulder to cry on.
“This is so difficult,” says Danny Amoruccio, manager/sexton of Willowbrook Cemetery Association. “They’re being stopped from doing what comes naturally to all of us: grieving together.”
Relatives and friends understand, he says. But at a time of intense pain, it’s one more burden to bear.
Daily operations at the cemetery have been whittled down to just sales of property, and scheduling of burials and entombments.
All communication is initiated by phone. There is minimal contact with the family.
The many other usual queries — where is someone buried? can I buy a monument? — are deferred to May, or done impersonally by phone or email.
Many families call just to verify their property. “They want the comfort of knowing that their deed and final plans are in place,” the manager says.
But Amoruccio still has work to do. In fact, recently — during what is normally a very quiet quarter — sales of graves spiked significantly, to 40 per month.
Families are securing property for their elderly parents — or themselves. They tell him directly: “With the coronavirus, we have to be prepared. We don’t want to run around at the last minute, taking care of final arrangements.”
When Amoruccio meets a family to sell property, he now speaks to them — no more than 2 people — outside their car. They follow him to view it, from the comfort of their vehicle.
If they see a property they’d like to purchase, he heads to his office to write up a contract. The family never goes inside. That once-comforting moment is gone too.
This month, Willowbrook completed an extension of its property. Earlier they bought a house on Richmondville Avenue, and razed it. They can now accommodate 500 additional burials, or 100 cremations.
So far, the cemetery has served one family whose loved one succumbed to COVID-19. They’ve received one additional call about a deceased person with the disease.
“We don’t treat them any differently,” Amoruccio notes.
He feels very badly for what mourners go through during this pandemic. “You see the frustration in their faces when it comes to the restriction of mourners” — once 10, now down to 5.
“But they seem to understand it’s for their own good. I hear in Italy, 2 family members are allowed at the burial. Or none — just the funeral director and cemetery staff.”
He is grateful that Willowbrook’s gates are open 24/7. Mourners can visit loved ones’ graves any time. Those who are barred from the burial have, at least, that chance to grieve.
And though dogs are not allowed on the property, Amoruccio sees a dramatic increase in walkers. “Visitors are always welcome to enjoy the peace and solitude here at Willowbrook,” he says.
The cemetery’s “daffodil mile” — the gorgeous rows of flowers fronting North Main Street — will bloom soon. The dozens of flowering trees — which always herald springtime in that part of town — will be even more beautiful and welcome this year.
Willowbrook Cemetery — established in 1847, and partly designed by Frederick Law Olmsted — is a non-profit community resource, Amoruccio notes.
“No one wants to think about an increase in deaths in our area,” he says. “But for me personally, I feel valuable right now. More than ever, we can be available for families at the worst of times.”
Even if death in the age of coronavirus robs those families of one of humanity’s most basic needs: saying a final goodbye.
This is peak fall foliage time. The wonder of nature is on display all over town. It’s an amazing, spectacular, all-too-brief moment that makes us realize, yeah, Westport really is someplace special.
So why is Debra Kandrak thinking of daffodils?
The yellow bulbs are an early sign of spring. But they’re planted in autumn. Debra wants Westporters to plant thousands of them soon.
A while back, she started a memory garden on her property, in honor of loved ones lost.
She has hundreds of daffodils, and adds more each year. Just when winter seems to drag drearily on,up they pop. (And even if it snows again, they survive. They’re a lot tougher than they look!)
Debra would like to see daffodils everywhere — not just on her property, Willowbrook Cemetery and random other spots.
She’s started a campaign: “Paint the Town Yellow.” If residents, business owners and town officials participate, she says, “it would be a beautiful thing.”
Both literally and figuratively.
“Imagine driving through Westport and seeing thousands of daffodils around mailboxes, on the roadside, in front of stores,” she says. “It would be so pretty. And they can be in honor of loved ones, so they’re even more meaningful.”
She reached out to landlords David Waldman and Roger Leifer. They’re on board. So are Laurelrock and Northeast Horticulture, which maintain several traffic islands.
Debra is waiting to hear back from the Westport Downtown Merchants Association, and Parks & Rec.
Now is the perfect time to plant daffodils. So as soon as you finish raking leaves, put some bulbs in the earth.
Then grab some apple cider, light a fire, and wait till spring. It will be worth it.
PS: Debra says that daffodils are deer-proof. There’s no better reason to start planting now!
There’s plenty of life in Willowbrook Cemetery. Officials there proudly announce 2 new additions.
Born Wednesday in Section 11, the twins and their mother are healthy and roaming the grounds.
But it wasn’t easy. Cemetery manager Danny Amoruccio reports that as workers dug a grave for the burial, the mother walked over — and gave birth right there to 2 fawns.
But she got scared and fled — leaving one behind. After nearly falling into the grave, it became attached to Danny. It followed him everywhere.
Willowbrook officials called Animal Control. They quickly came, wrapped the newborn deer up, and walked it to the woods. The mother appeared immediately, and hustled it away.
The family has grown to 16. They now reside — happily and together — in undeveloped sections of the cemetery.
Westport’s cemeteries are important places.
Like most boneyards, they feature row upon row of gravestones, markers and monuments. This being New England, many are old. Some are historic. All mean something.
But cemeteries can be beautiful too. Willowbrook — established in 1847 — is more than final resting place of generations of Coleys, Burrs, Nashes, Bedfords, Bradleys and Hurlbutts.
It’s a place of rolling hills, specimen trees, shrubs, a pond, the famed Daffodil Mile — and last week’s Photo Challenge.
Mark Jacobs’ image showed a lovely brook, running underneath a handsome viaduct. (Click here for the photo.)
Only one “06880” reader — Dan Herman — knew where that photo was taken: by Carriage Lane, just off Main Street.
Perhaps the end of the Thanksgiving holiday kept the number of correct guesses low.
Or maybe we all need to spend more time hanging out in Westport cemeteries.
This week’s Photo Challenge —
— can be found in a hangout of a different type.
Hint to young “06880” readers: The object above is a “pay phone.” Once upon a time, you fed coins into the slot (upper right), dialed or punched in a phone number, and talked to them using the “handset” (middle, with cord).
Another hint to young readers: This phone is located in a place you’re very familiar with. Now you know what it is!
Readers of any age, who know where in Westport you’d find this: Click “Comments” below.
It’s been a long, hard winter. Sometimes this feels not like April 21, but January 111th.
Don’t tell that to the daffodils. Willowbrook’s famed “Daffodil Mile” is now in full bloom.
That’s great news for the thousands of drivers who pass the Main Street cemetery every day — and the many more bikers, joggers and walkers who wait patiently for the display.
Over the past 10 years, families and friends of Willowbrook’s “residents” (aka dead people) have donated 35,000 bulbs. Each year the line of yellow flowers grows.
Next year, 10,000 more bulbs will be planted.
And in the coming months, cemetery trustees will release details on a new cherry blossom mall.
PS: The cool weather is good for one thing. This year, the daffodils will bloom longer than usual.
(For more information, click here for the Willowbrook Cemetery website.)
The latest news from Willowbrook Cemetery includes a new president, longtime Westporter Sal Lucci; more daffodils, plantings, trees and irrigation, and a renovated mausoleum section.
Also this: A large expansion of Section 14, with over 5,000 new graves.
A press announcement attributes this to “increased demand.”
Apparently, people are dying to get in.
This morning’s post — with photos from Westport Memorial Day parades past — inspired 2 alert and historically minded “06880” readers to send in their own.
Jack Whittle found this shot on the Gault 150th anniverary website. It shows a 1920s-era parade — minimalist though it was — passing Willowbrook cemetery on North Main Street. Leonard H. Gault drove the fire truck.
Ann Sheffer sent along 2 photos. Here are some Girl Scouts circa 1955 (with her mother, Betty Sheffer, as a troop leader):
Here was the scene in 1966. Fairfield Furniture stores has of course been converted back into its original “National Hall” form.
Mark Potts offers this scene from 1972. Staples band leader Bob Genualdi (tie and jacket) leads his musicians up the Post Road, in front of the bizarrely named S&M Pizza. (Note the group sitting — as kids did back in the day — on top of the adjacent store.)
Remember: the 2016 version steps off at 9 a.m. Monday (May 30). Get your camera ready — don’t forget to charge that cell phone!