The coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc on daily life. We’re not able to work like we used to, shop like we used to, travel like we used to and socialize like we used to.
The situation also means that when a beloved family member or friend is sick or passes away, we’re not able to comfort one another and mourn like we’re used to.
But thanks to two local women, a family and community have the chance to come together and celebrate the life and legacy of someone who passed away during a time when social distancing and stay-at-home orders have disrupted the chance for wakes and funerals to be held.
On April 7, Brookfield resident Carol Polcyn died following a short illness not related to COVID-19.
Saddened that their friend would not have the opportunity to have a traditional memorial service, April Marin, of LaGrange Park, and Laura Feddersen, of Brookfield, spoke on the phone about coming up with a way to remember Polcyn’s life and help the community show support for the Polcyn family.
“The day Carol died, I called up Laura and we started talking about what we could do, since there can’t be any funeral or service for people to come together,” Marin said.
Friends since childhood from Brookfield’s Lincoln Elementary School, Marin and Feddersen knew something special had to be done to remember a beloved friend and lifelong resident of the village.
One week later, their plan was put into action. On April 14, the childhood best friends set up a memorial message garden on the front lawn of Polcyn’s home.
In order to protect messages from the wind and rain, Marin and Feddersen decided on pastel-colored plastic plates hot-glued to small wooden stakes. The plates feature white hearts — cutouts made from white plastic plates — with laminated photos of Polcyn glued on the front.
The process is simple. On the front porch of the Polcyn home at 4232 Forest Ave. are permanent markers and hand sanitizer, so friends, neighbors and passersby can pick up a plate, write a short condolence message or memory of Polcyn on the front, and place the plate back in the ground.
“She was such a joy to be around, and to have her husband so isolated at this time and not being able to have a service, we thought this would be a great way for him to see that people cared about and loved Carol,” Marin said.
To encourage participation, Feddersen — who lives one block away from the Polcyn house — told her neighbors about the memorial, and Marin shared photos of the memorial via Facebook on group pages including Brookfield Connections and Lyons Township High School Class of 1976.
Within a few days, dozens of plates bore messages of memories and sympathy from neighbors and even colleagues and patients from Creative Dental in Brookfield, where Polcyn was employed alongside her daughter, Tara.
In addition to people leaving messages at the home, Marin says former classmates and others from across the country have been tagging the Polcyn family on Facebook, posting condolences, sharing how much she meant to them.
“All the responses that I’ve been seeing on Facebook, from people that I don’t even know, talk about how friendly Carol was,” she said. “She was friendly and outgoing, she listened to people and always made you laugh.”
Polcyn’s husband, Ed, says he and his family have been touched by both the memorial and the messages left for them on Facebook from patients of the Brookfield dental office, friends they’ve lost contact with over the years, and the people they’ve been able to say “hello” to from the front door as they stop on the front lawn.
For Ed Polcyn, who celebrated 41 years of marriage with his wife in December, the messages have brought a smile during what he says would otherwise be a dark time.
“When April told me she and Laura were putting this together, I was really surprised and touched by it,” he said. “You see the flamingos in the front yard for a birthday, or a stork when somebody has a baby, and it’s a way to let the community know about something good. Although this is not something good, it’s a way to send a positive message.”
For Tara Polcyn, seeing the extended community pay their respects for her mother has been moving and heartwarming.
“Being that we can’t have a funeral service or anything normal now, it really means a lot to see other people coming out and giving a message,” she said. “It’s a lot of love and support we’re getting.”
A memorial gathering for Carol Polcyn will take place at a future date, but for the time being, friends and neighbors are welcome to stop by the family home, at 4232 Forest Ave. in Brookfield.