When the Luecke family of four posed for a family portrait with newborn brother Elliot, they made sure to include a green dinosaur right in the middle of the photo. The dinosaur belongs to big brother William, who passed away, but is still very much alive in the hearts of his parents, Misty and Todd. “He is on our minds daily,” Misty says. “When we do family photos, we always include something of William’s.”
In February 2012, Misty and Todd received a phone call they’ll never forget. Their very active 8-and-a half-month old son went down for a nap at daycare and simply never woke up. His death was attributed to SIDS, or Sudden Unexplained Infant Death Syndrome. “SIDS was one of my biggest fears,” Misty says. “We did everything we could to prevent it.”
William’s death shook new parents Misty and Todd to the core. A SIDS cause of death gave the brokenhearted family no answers, but it pushed them to ask what they could do for others going through a similar situation. “We wanted to help grieving families,” Misty says. They formed the nonprofit William’s Wings Foundation and committed to sending grieving families to counseling services, sending care packages to people who have lost a child, as well as supporting similar causes.
But the foundation’s biggest project was to fund an Angel of Hope statue. Since the book The Christmas Box by Richard Paul Evans inspired the statue for grieving families in 1994, Angel of Hope statues have become a place for families to experience hope and healing. Every year at 7 p.m. December 6, candlelight ceremonies are held at Angel of Hope statues across the country as a way for families to remember a loved one. “We had seen the Angel of Hope statue in Maple Grove and went to a candle lighting,” Misty says. “We thought what a great way to pay it forward and help other families, not necessarily SIDS families, but any family who has lost a child.”
Funding the Angel of Hope statue became the main project of the William’s Wings Foundation. Money raised from the annual golf tournament went toward purchasing a statue and giving it a home near theirs in Chanhassen. “In the future, we hope for there to be bricks all around [the statue], and people can dedicate a brick in memory of a loved one,” Misty says. “It’s a place to reminisce and know that there is hope out there.”
The foundation raised the money for the statue and installation costs, and the city of Chanhassen donated property in city-owned green space by Santa Vera Boulevard west of Kerber Boulevard.
There are five registered Angel of Hope statues in Minnesota, but before the Chanhasen statue, families had to drive to the closest one, in Maple Grove, or to outstate statues in Fergus Falls or Virginia. “They were so far away, so we never had a place to go and mourn,” says Amber Goodyear of Chaska, who had a stillborn baby named Silas in December 2012. “We didn’t have anything on the west side of the metro and there’s a lot of families who need it.”
The statue shares the profound grief and deep sadness that accompanies the loss of not only babies, but children lost in miscarriages and stillborn births. “We’ve come a long way to let people know that mothers and families deeply mourn their children,” Amber says. In Chanhassen, there’s now a place to let people know that hope and healing is possible, too.
Find the Angel of Hope statue in Chanhassen along Santa Vera Drive between Kerber Boulevard and Powers Boulevard. There will be a candlelight ceremony at 7 p.m. Dec. 6 to remember loved ones.