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One thousand paper cranes sent Donna Cimarelli a message that while her daughter, Maren Sanchez, has been physically taken from her, her spirit lives on.
Cimarelli was at Atria, a senior living community in Stratford June 6 as part of a new program by the Maren Sanchez Home Foundation. Called Maren’s Magical Moments, the new outreach program was created to help remember Maren and spread the kind of joy she would have shared if she lived.
The cranes were unexpected.
Maren was killed at Jonathan Law High School, April 25, 2014, when she was just 16 years old and preparing for her prom night. Fellow student Christopher Plaskon is serving 25 years for stabbing her in a stairwell at the school and killing her.
During Maren’s years at Jonathan Law High School, cranes had become sort of a symbol for her and her friends.
“There was one class where Maren was bored, so she ripped a piece of paper out of her notebook and she started making origami cranes with it because she was learning it on YouTube at home,” Cimarelli said.
Maren’s friend Meredith Bump saw her doing it, and Maren showed her how to make them. From then on if someone was sad, the group of friends would make an origami crane to cheer up their friend, according to Cimarelli.
Every year for the annual Maren Sanchez Home Foundation gala, which raises funds for continuing the foundation’s work teaching girls self defense and sharing insights into how to view the world when faced with violence, Maren’s friend makes several hundred origami cranes to decorate the venue.
So cranes have come to symbolize Maren, much as the color purple — Maren’s favorite color — has also come to symbolize her in her hometown of Milford.
Last week Cimarelli and members of the Maren Sanchez Home Foundation were at Atria kicking off Maren’s Magical Moments, which Foran High School senior Regan Taylor orchestrated as part of an internship.
The first Magical Moments included an afternoon of music, refreshments, and painting the pots of purple potted petunias.
Cimarelli gave Jeanne DiMuzio, engagement life director at Atria, a picture of Maren to hang in the room during the event. DiMuzio said she was about to hang the photo on the center of the front wall when a ray of sunlight coming through the window caught her attention. She turned, and her eyes fell on a spot of wall just beyond it. She decided to hang the photo there.
Lisa Perschino-Smith, treasurer of the Maren Sanchez Home Foundation, thought Cimarelli had carefully planned this juxtaposition of Maren’s photo and the art underneath it — a quilt made of 1,000 paper cranes.
But no. Cimarelli was just as surprised to see all those cranes, and the Atria staff was surprised to hear of their significance.
The quilt of cranes had only been at Atria for six weeks. A young woman from California was having life-saving surgery at St. Vincent’s Medical Center, DiMuzio explained, and her community from California sent her the quilt of cranes, which is decorated with the word “Healing.” When the young woman and her mother were leaving to go home, they drove by Atria and decided that, since packing the quilt for travel was difficult, they would donate it to Atria.
DiMuzio said she told the mother that when the time was right she would pass the quilt on to someone else.
“I told her when there is a sign that it’s ready to go to a new home, we would continue the healing process,” DiMuzio said.
Last Thursday, convinced the sign had come, she presented the quilt of 1,000 paper cranes to Cimarelli to take home.
Cimarelli, cheerful but always with a tear on the brink as she talks about Maren, said the cranes were another sign to her that her daughter hasn’t left her.
“It’s really clear that she’s not gone, she’s more present,” Cimarelli said. “Our loved ones and people that may not even be our loved ones, our ancestors, send us messages all the time to help us be better people or make better choices.”
The others organizing Maren’s Magical Moments said the cranes told them, too, that Maren was there.