Christmas Box Angel of Hope statue will comfort grieving Herriman parents.Sep 07, 2021 03:00PM ● By Karmel Harper
By Karmel Harper | [email protected]
With 18 angel babies and only one living child, Herriman’s Christa Benward understands the devastation of a grieving parent quite well. While most of her 18 angels, which all have names, were lost to miscarriages and embryos that did not continue development, she has buried three infants in the Herriman Cemetery.
Her first baby, Dakota, was diagnosed with Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrom in utero. Despite her doctor’s recommendations to terminate her pregnancy, Benward continued and gave birth in June 2000. Dakota lived for two days. After experiencing two miscarriages the following year, Benward gave birth to Jaydon in 2002. Jaydon also suffered from HLHS. He lived for 10 days and is buried next to Dakota.
After suffering two more miscarriages in the following years, Benward became pregnant with her twins, Cheyenne and Wyatt, in 2015. When Wyatt’s heartbeat was undiscoverable mid-pregnancy, Benward was told he would likely be reabsorbed by her body. But Wyatt did not get reabsorbed. He settled in her womb, keeping his twin sister company as she continued to develop. When Cheyenne was born, Wyatt was there, too, and Christa was able to hold him. Wyatt is buried next to his brothers.
Benward and 5-year-old Cheyenne, her only surviving child, visit her boys at the Herriman Cemetery frequently. Benward said, “I counted how many children are buried in that cemetery and there are 346 children there who died before the age of 18. My heart just broke seeing that.”
To serve the grieving parents in her community, in 2020 Benward spearheaded a fundraiser project to bring a Christmas Box Angel of Hope statue to Herriman City. The Christmas Box Angel of Hope is a program inspired by Richard Paul Evans’ book, “The Christmas Box,” a fictional story about a grieving mother who found solace and peace in the comforting shadow of an angel statue.
After the book's publication, readers began searching for the angel statue. The monument once existed in Salt Lake City but is speculated to have been destroyed. In response to grieving parents seeking solace, Evans collaborated with Ortho and Jared Fairbanks to create and erect an angel statue.
Evans’ website (www.richardpaulevans.com) states, “The face of the angel is that of Evans’ second daughter, Allyson-Danica. If you look closely you can find on the angel’s right wing the word ‘hope.’” The angel is 4 foot 3 inches tall, has a wingspan of 5 feet 2 inches, and is half inch thick bronze. The first Christmas Box Angel of Hope was dedicated on land donated by Salt Lake City on December 6, 1994 – the date corresponding to the death of the child in Evans’ book and coincidentally is celebrated in many parts of the world as Children’s Day.
There are more than 160 Christmas Box Angel of Hope statues in the world. There are currently 10 in Utah; Herriman’s would be the 11th. There is an Angel of Hope statue in Puyallup, Washington honoring Charlie and Braden Powell, the children of Susan Powell and one in Oklahoma City honoring the 15 children lost in the 1995 bombing. While the bases of the statue are different and unique to each community, the actual Christmas Box Angels of Hope all over the world are identical and numbered. A foundry in Lehi has been commissioned to build them. Fairbanks, Evans, nor the foundry profit from the program. The statues, which take 3 months to build, are built at cost. With a cost of $15,500 to build a statue, it is up to each community to raise the money.
When Benward approached Herriman City in February 2020 about this endeavor, the city loved the project and donated a designated area in Herriman Cemetery for the statue. However, it is up to Benward to raise the funds . As the pandemic slowed down the project in 2020, Benward did not start actively fundraising until January 2021. To date, Benward has raised $8,000 of the required $15,500. Benward and Cheyenne constantly talk about the statue to friends, family, and anyone they meet.
Cheyenne said, “We want to put an angel there for my brothers and my twin.” But the solace and healing the angel provides is for anyone and everyone who needs her.
Benward said, “Some people don’t have a place to go to grieve if their loved one was cremated or they could not afford a burial. Some people find peace in her shadow when they are grieving a parent or spouse. There is so much hope and healing from this angel. I want the entire community to have that…not just grieving parents.”
Once Herriman’s Christmas Box Angel of Hope statue is dedicated, which Benward hopes will be by Spring or Summer 2022, community gatherings can take place there on special days throughout the year. Every year on December 6 worldwide healing vigils take place at every Christmas Box Angel of Hope statue where people can visit, write notes to their loved one, and place a rose at her base. Benward said, “It’s nice to know you’re not alone. I have experienced so much loss personally and I feel like the angel can bring people together. There is so much healing and strength that comes from that.”
If you would like to donate to the Christmas Box Angel of Hope fundraiser to bring her to Herriman Cemetery, go to any Jordan Credit Union and give under the Angel of Hope Herriman Account or send a Venmo to Benward @Christa-Benward. For everyone who donates a minimum of $50, Riverston’s Headstone Heroes will provide a free cleaning of your loved one’s memorial.
Headstone Heroes’ owner, Jackie Stevens, said, “To us, the Angel of Hope statue is a beautiful way to symbolically watch over our loved one’s resting place when we cannot physically be there. We love what we do, we do what we love, and giving back is just another way of honoring our loved ones.” Contact Headstone Heroes at 801-819-8080 or e-mail [email protected] and provide them with your donation receipt. To view photos of Christmas Box Angels of Hope photos from various communities, visit the Facebook page Christmas Box Angel of Hope Gathering.