Published in the July 22, 2015 edition
By MAUREEN DOHERTY
LYNNFIELD — The glow of over 1,000 candles, most held by tiny hands, flickered in the night sky against an ocean of orange on the town common last Thursday.
Each candle’s flame represented the inextinguishable spirit of an angel everyone affectionately called “Sonny.”
They had gathered at dusk wearing orange shirts because, as one young friend said simply, “It was Sonny’s favorite color.”
“Sonny” is 10-year-old Benjamin “Sonny” Tropeano, who died unexpectedly on Monday night, July 13. The spirited youngster who loved football and video games, but most of all who had an affinity for people of all ages, was the youngest of six children. He graduated from the Summer Street School in June and was looking forward to entering fifth grade with his friends and classmates at Lynnfield Middle School in the fall where he was sure to make even more friends because it was what he did best.
Rev. Dr. Dennis Bailey, pastor of Centre Congregational Church, opened the vigil by expressing appreciation for the love and support their presence brought to the Tropeano family.
“We gather tonight in vigil to mourn an important member of our community, Benjamin ‘Sonny’ Tropeano,” Rev. Bailey said, “because we are stronger when we are together. God comes to us by this mutual support that we have in times of tragedy and sorrow.”
“Sonny was an important member of our town of Lynnfield and our school system,” Rev. Bailey said. “He was also an important member of the Lynnfield Youth Football League. He loved it.”
“His wonderful family have been an important part of the town of Lynnfield for many years … I assure you, the Tropeano family, that you are deeply loved and respected by this community as great people and … we are by your side,” he said.
“We feel our hearts are broken. We ask the question ‘why?’ and no one can answer that question. And in times like this we all ask God why has this happened? And we don’t get an easy answer. It’s only natural to ask that question,” Rev. Bailey said.
“As we light these candles tonight we are remembering that the light of God was in Sonny’s heart and now we take that light and continue it in our hearts as well,” he said.
Rev. Bailey asked God to grant assistance to those gathered at the vigil that they may find the strength to help the Tropeano family and “be present to them in the days ahead in whatever way they need. But also help us to know when they need to be alone, going through this together themselves.”
“Tonight we burn these candles but the real candles that matter are in our hearts and souls for Sonny, and they will never flicker. So tonight in his memory, we have gathered here to ask You to give us comfort, to give his family comfort and peace. May Sonny’s bright light continue to shine in our community in many ways. He has loved us and we loved him.”
Rev. Bailey, who also serves as Fire Chaplain of the Lynnfield Fire Department where Sonny’s older brother, Joey Tropeano, was recently named to the town’s call Fire Department, added: “We pray for others who are part of this journey as well. … Bless the first responders of our community and those workers who tried to save his life. We are grateful for all that they did.”
Father Vincent Gianni, pastor of Saint Florence Roman Catholic Church in Wakefield, the Tropeano family’s parish, addressed those gathered as well.
Looking out upon the many hundreds of tear-stained faces of young children standing before him, Father Gianni said he wanted to address everyone gathered at this vigil as “children of God.”
He recalled to them a story in which Jesus was said to be speaking to a large group of adults when he noticed “some little children being brought forth” in the crowd, which prompted Jesus to go embrace the children while leaving the adults with the message: “Unless you become like little children you’ll never see God.”
“He was very real to them and He wanted us to see that God is very real. And that’s the beauty of tonight. Even though we’ve lost this beautiful young boy, Sonny, the fact is that he is in the arms and presence of God. Sadness, sorrow, pain – that’s what we have but not Sonny,” Father Gianni told them, because Sonny has “joy and peace. He will forever be a child.”
“As we think of Sonny today, tomorrow and in the years ahead we’ll always think of that young child who made us tonight come as close to God as we can, because he is indeed so close to God himself,” Father Gianni said.
Rev. Bailey then invited Wayne Shaffer to make a special presentation. On behalf of Lynnfield Youth Football, Shaffer presented Sonny’s older brother, Nick Tropeano, with a framed Lynnfield football jersey bearing Sonny’s No. 55. It was inset with a photo of Sonny wearing his jersey in his formal team portrait.
“Sonny loved football. It was one of the things that was his passion,” Shaffer told Nick. “This is how we remember him. I’d like you to give this to your parents.”
Sonny ’embodied love’
Stepping to the podium, Nick Tropeano told those gathered before him that “Sonny touched everyone deeply. Whether it was his smile or his bright blue eyes, he embodied love. And what I see here today is the embodiment of Sonny.”
Nick thanked the many loving friends and strangers who had taken the time to share with him and his family their memories of his little brother, who he said had the “ability to bring out the best in everyone.”
“I’ve never seen this much love … and never even imagined it was real,” Nick told the crowd.
Nick described his little brother as “the wisest 10-year-old I ever knew, far wiser than me, far wiser than anyone I know.” He said Sonny possessed “a special connection with God. He would tell me he talked to Him. … He would break down things to the lowest possible level, knowing that he actually had the answer, because it was very simple. Sonny loved. Sonny loved everyone. Sonny loved football but Sonny liked football because he liked to watch people play. He didn’t want to win.”
“Sonny liked to listen to what people had to say,” Nick recalled. He was known as “everyone’s little brother” because he would adopt as his own the friends of all of his brothers and sisters and their family’s extended network of friends and relatives.
“He would absorb everything you said,” Nick recalled, adding that the next time Sonny saw that person he would try his best to mention what had been told to him in the past or learn from what the person had shared with him.
“Losing Sonny is possibly the hardest thing I will ever go through in my life. But he will never truly be lost because he lives in our hearts and I am so proud of the community of Lynnfield and the friends of us who have come here tonight to show their respect to a little angel who’s finally home. Thank you everyone so much. I love all of you and Sonny loves you too. God bless you guys.”
After Nick spoke, members of Sonny’s family brought 10 large white balloons to a clearing on the common, each representing one year of his life “as we release, symbolically, Sonny back to God,” Rev. Bailey said.
During the balloon release an adaptation of Taylor Swift’s song “Ronan,” written about a little boy who passed too soon, was softly sung by LHS senior Katrina Gustafson, her words seemingly drifting upward along with those balloons in a message to Sonny:
“I remember your bare feet down the hallway
I remember your little laugh
Race cars on the kitchen floor, plastic dinosaurs
I love you to the moon and back
I remember your blue eyes looking into mine
Like we had our own secret club
I remember you dancing before bed time
Then jumping on me, waking me up
… I can still feel you hold my hand, little man
And even the moment I knew
You fought it hard like an army guy
Remember I leaned in and whispered to you
Come on baby with me, we’re gonna fly away from here
You were my best ten years.”