As the clock struck 7:14 p.m. Sunday night, hundreds of balloons went skyward as the Elwood community marked six months since the untimely death of one of their own.
“Sean, we miss you. We love you. And this is for you,” his father, Gary Urda, said, choking back tears in the moments before the balloons were released.
Sean Urda, 17, a John Glenn High School senior, died in a freak snow-tubing accident Jan. 26 in Huntington after a blizzard. Since then, the Elwood school community has rallied around the Urdas as they grapple with the loss of their son.
“I think of this sort of as a graduation party for Sean,” his mother, Nicole Urda, said. “I’m glad everybody could be here for it.”
She said the idea for Sunday’s six-month tribute came to her in a dream – unusual, she said, because she seldom dreams, let alone remembers them.
“I woke up and I had this thought that this is what I wanted to do on his six-month anniversary. I wanted to have this balloon release. I felt like it was almost Sean talking to me,” she said.
Fearful of forgetting, she told the crowd that she groped around her nightstand in the pitch-black night to find a pen and paper. She tore a piece of paper off of Sean’s high school planner and wrote a simple note, “Balloon release,” then put it down and went back to bed.
When she woke up in the morning and found the note, it had been written on a piece of paper containing the agenda for the 14th day of the month.
On that day, Sean had written to read chapter 14 for a school assignment – all signs from Sean, who was No. 14 on the John Glenn High School soccer team, to proceed, she said.
“I didn’t realize how big it was going to get. It started off as just our family,” she said of the balloon ceremony.
Then, the Elwood family came – hundreds of them, holding blue and white balloons and soccer ball balloons and stars. Previously, his mother said that her greatest fear was that her son would be forgotten following his sudden death. The Elwood family has seen to making sure that does not happen – through pickle ball tournaments, a memorial concert and financing a scholarship fund which has raised more than $87,000 thus far.
The fund will provide at least three $1,400 scholarships each year to a John Glenn soccer team senior, a senior on the Score FC travel tournament team Urda played for and the Suffolk County all-star squad.
Fitting for a graduation party, the first four balloons released were representing four of the 14 schools he was accepted to for undergraduate studies – Syracuse, Loyola, Binghamton or Geneseo – the four his family think he would have chosen to attend.
Words of support from friends and loved ones, many found on the Sean Urda Memorial scholarship’s website, seanurda14.org, have proven to be priceless.
“They keep us going every day,” Gary Urda said.