Ninety-five trees were planted by Utah families Saturday in the International Peace Gardens at Jordan Park as a living memorial to the state's 1987 victims of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
Known to many as "crib death," SIDS is the leading cause of death among infants after the first week of life.Saturday's ceremony was sponsored by the Utah Chapter of the National SIDS Foundation, whose symbol is a tree with one fallen leaf.
"We plant trees as a living memorial which allows us to imagine the growth of our SIDS kids if they were still with us," Randy Ynchausti, president of the foundation's Utah Chapter, told tearful Utahns who gathered to pay homage to their lost children.
"We plant trees to return in future years with their brothers and sisters to allow them to realize the potential that their siblings did have and who were taken from them by the silent killer," he said, his voice cracking. "We plant trees that we may have a place to return every so often and see in our mind's eye our children playing around those trees and spend just a few minutes with them."
Ynchausti said Saturday's ceremony was also held to promote public awareness to the tragic, mysterious syndrome that claims 80-100 Utah babies annually.
The ceremony, attended by church, civic and political leaders, was also an opportunity for survivors to be comforted in their grief by music, bright balloons, fellowship and kind words.
"There's a very special spirit here today. I believe that's because heaven and earth are brought closer together as we observe a tear in every eye, a lump in every throat and a yearning in every heart and soul," said President Thomas S. Monson, second counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
President Monson assured the families that a loving Heavenly Father will be kind to the babies "who were with you for a while and then departed."
"I firmly believe within my heart that everyone of us here today has been touched in one way or another through this syndrome which has taken from us these precious little ones for whom we've had such large plans and extensive ideas concerning their future," the church leader said.
"The fact that those plans and ideas have been frustrated should not keep us from remembering with affection the fact that we were given the privilege of having a little one in our arms, a little one close to our hearts, and one whom we shall remember throughout the eternities."
President Monson told the parents that while contemplating their SIDS children, they have "an ideal opportunity to teach their brothers and sisters something about love, something about hope, something about prayer, and something about eternity.
"My witness to you is that you shall not be deprived of these special little children who have meant so much to you and who are so dear to their creator," he said.
Pink and blue ribbons adorned each of the 95 trees that were accepted by Salt Lake Councilman Wayne Horracks on behalf of the city. A plaque, dedicating the grove, was presented to Rep. Howard Nielsen, R-Utah, who pledged his support of medical research into SIDS.