Park swing a tribute to late daughter, the third loss of a child for this Milford mom
New Haven Register - 11/21/2018
Nov. 21--MILFORD -- Scores of parents know the bench swing at Bodie's Place playground as the perfect spot to rest while watching the kids play, but to Pat Liptak the swing conjures sweet thoughts of her late daughter Paige, the third child Liptak has had to say goodbye to forever.
Paige, who was on the autism spectrum with special needs and lived independently at Chapel Haven, would have been 50 years old Nov. 21.
"She was determined, stubborn, the kindest heart," Liptak said of Paige. "She was on Social Security, but she was always the one in the family bringing the gifts for people. It was about everyone else -- not about her."
Just three miles away is a baseball field behind Meadowside School -- the "Erin Skye Liptak Memorial Field" -- a tribute to Liptak's daughter Erin, who died in 1988 at age 16 from a rare heart condition.
Before losing Erin, Liptak lost her first child -- Geoffrey Liptak -- three days after he was born in 1967 due to a liver tumor and the umbilical cord being wrapped around his neck.
"I think there must be a lesson in this," she said, but she's not sure what the lesson is yet. "Every minute isn't guaranteed. Maybe that's my lesson. But I could have learned that another way."
Liptak said she is able to carry on, in part, because she still has a son, Alex, 45; his wife, Penny; and their daughters, Alissa, 15, and Carleigh, 11.
"Being a mother is great, but nothing beats being a grandmother," Liptak said.
Paige died unexpectedly in 2010 from an aortic aneurism at age 41, about seven months after being hit by a car. Liptak took Paige to orthopedic specialists for pain in her back following the accident, but it would turn out to be an aneurism.
Liptak chose a swing as a memorial because Paige loved swings and they often spent time on them together, she said.
There was a delay with installation because Liptak, a former longtime animal control officer and a popular figure in town, originally hoped to put a memorial garden and bench at the animal shelter. Paige, a volunteer there, had an incredible gift with animals, Liptak said. Paige learned how to give animal massages that often transformed the mood and energy of shelter dogs, she said.
But there was a possibility the shelter would relocate, so Liptak worked with the Parks Department to get a swing bench at Bodie's Place in Eisenhower Park, an all-inclusive playground. The money for the bench swing came from a memorial fund of donations.
Liptak said Paige hated that she was disabled because she didn't want people to think of her as different. That's why the plaques on the swing read: "There is no greater disability than the inability to see a person as more," and "In memory of Paige L. Liptak, a woman who was absolutely more."
Liptak often visits the swing to reflect on Paige's life, she said. She spent years advocating for her daughter in the maze of special education and the adult disability world.
"I miss her so much -- I miss her life," Liptak said. "That was my purpose for so long."
Of the swing, Liptak said, "She would have loved it -- I don't think I could get her away from it."
She visits the field named after Erin too, sometimes checking to make sure the sign is still there; occasionally it needs to be replaced.
Erin, an avid softball, basketball player and honor student, died as a result of Wolff- Parkinson White-Syndrome, a rare condition in which an extra electrical pathway to the heart causes a fast heartbeat.
"She lived more than most of us in her 16 years," Liptak said. "She never slowed down. It was almost like she knew she didn't have much time here. She was special."
There is no memorial to Geoffrey, except the one in her heart, Liptak said. In the days when she had Geoffrey, the norm after a miscarriage, stillbirth or loss soon after birth was for doctors to encourage moms to move on and try to get pregnant again, she said.
"I didn't grieve for Geoffrey until Erin died," she said.
Despite the unthinkable losses in her life, Pat Liptak leads an active and happy life. But she said despite how she looks on the surface, "There's a big part of my heart that's missing and the other side of my heart keeps me going."
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