We’ve all seen them, plaques embossed with the names of those that have passed away. They adorn everything from bricks to benches to buildings. Often used as a fundraising tool, an exchange of cash equals a loved one remembered and honored. But who really stops to read those plaques?
Like most people, I would pass by these tokens of remembrance without even so much as a glance. The only time I ever recalled stopping to read names engraved on something was when I first strolled the Hollywood Walk of Fame. All those shiny stars lining the sidewalk were hard to ignore. I myself dreamed of achieving that milestone one day, being a famous, honored celebrity chiseled in stone. Afterall, they earned and deserved this acknowledgment.
But after my mother passed away in 2012, ravaged by grief and lost in the depths of despair, I became drawn to memorial plaques which suddenly seemed to appear everywhere. I found myself stopping to read the names and messages dedicated to family members and loved ones displayed on park benches and memorial walls. For the first time, I noticed the bronze plaques embedded in the sidewalks of my West Hollywood neighborhood honoring those lost to AIDS. Compelled to visit the 9/11 Memorial in lower Manhattan, I spent an afternoon running my fingers over the endless names carved into the ledges of those harrowing fountains. I was floored. These were more than just names. These strangers represented the lives of individuals who once graced our world. They were loved by family and friends, and worthy of being recognized and remembered just as much as those cherished stars on Hollywood Boulevard. The more plaques I read, the more I thought about my mom.
My mother, “Lovely Lois,” a nickname she once gave herself in jest that fit so perfectly, was beloved by all who met her. She was the guiding light in my and my sisters’ lives, and the matriarch of our entire extended family. Upon greeting you, she emanated a warmth that permeated your soul. Her luminous hazel eyes cast a glow as bright as the sun. Her beaming smile welcomed you with a sense of comfort and security. And as she affixed her gaze upon you, her petite hands would cradle your face and then gently pinch your cheeks. It was a gesture that made you feel fully seen and bathed in an aura of unconditional love.
A devoted and dedicated wife, doting mother, grandmother, and aunt, my mother was the epitome of graciousness and carried herself with a refined elegance and quiet confidence. Always a pillar of strength and resilience, she sadly could not combat the lung disease that ultimately took her life and left the rest of us gasping as well. Upon passing, her absence left a deep void in the lives of all who knew her, and years after her death, family, friends, and neighbors continue to honor her memory. Each year on the anniversary of her passing, my sisters and I are inundated with messages from loved ones who fondly remember and cherish their Lovely Lois.
One of her favorite pastimes was spending the summer at our family beach house in Breezy Point, a quaint, cooperative community nestled at the end of a peninsula in Queens, New York. It was the place she was happiest. Our home was always open and anyone and everyone were welcome. She took such pleasure in entertaining guests. Our little beach bungalow often overflowed with my siblings and their children, accompanied by extended family and friends who were always welcomed with endless amounts of food and hours of love and laughter.
Several years ago, the Co-Op began installing memorial benches around the community dedicated to former residents. Instantly, I knew what needed to be done. Fortunately, I secured a bench in the exact spot where my mother often spent her evenings with us watching the sunset beyond the Brooklyn skyline. Her bench would now require a commemorative plaque, but what would it say?
I struggled for weeks to find the right words. What does one say to capture the lifespan of someone who was larger than life? I thought of a stranger taking a seat on that bench, reading this plaque, and wondering what, if any, impression those words might leave. Would my mother’s essence be felt by them? I soon realized there weren’t enough words or space to truly encapsulate her lasting impact, endless love, and powerful presence. After much thought, I chose to compare death to a setting sun and reflect on her eternal guiding light. “Our lives, much like the sun, rise and set. But a life well lived continues to shine forever. That light is our Lovely Lois Arcuri.”
It’s been ten years since she passed away, but my mother still remains very much alive in our hearts, minds, and souls. This plaque and the bench it adorns are certainly no replacement for her, but I’m grateful and comforted in knowing that now during our evening sunset viewings she will once again be seated beside us. A cherished spot, that will forever hold lasting memories.
Like those stars on the Walk of Fame, my mother was our star, she too deserves to be remembered and honored. These commemorative plaques are more than just a piece of bronze or metal, they are expressions of love. So next time you pass by one, consider pausing for a moment and think about the lasting impact that person left on those they loved. And if you happen to take a seat on my mother’s bench, I hope your moments spent there will feel similar to time spent with our Lovely Lois, embraced in a warm welcoming glow.