By Eileen Moon
MIDDLETOWN – Colleen Piano has many happy memories of her son, Daniel’s growing up years in Leonardo. “He was a special kid,” she said recently, recalling the many hours he spent playing ball and skateboarding at Croydon Hall, a township park off Leonardville Road.
Only 18 years old, Daniel died on September 2 in an early morning accident on Chapel Hill Road in Middletown.
Earlier that day, Daniel had been at Brookdale Community College, picking up textbooks he would need for his first semester as a college student.
But that was not to be.
His funeral took place on September 6, the day he would have started classes.
As news of the accident circulated, his friends from high school quickly established a makeshift memorial for Daniel at the side of Chapel Hill Road, but that was not a place that his mother wanted to visit.
“Losing a child is just horrific,” she told
he Two River Times last week. “I would give my right arm to have him back in my life.”
Shy and reserved in his early years, Daniel grew into a sociable young man whose caring nature won him many friends.
“In his 18 years, he touched so many lives,” Colleen said, who took a family leave from Monmouth Medical Center, where she is employed as an executive assistant, following the death of her son.
In the midst of her grief, she paid a visit to a psychic – a former religious sister, who told her that she would receive a beautiful, handwritten letter.
On the first of Nov., a handwritten letter arrived, written about Daniel by his Italian teacher in high school, Lina Santori. Santori related how Daniel had approached her at the start of the year, looking directly into her eyes as he introduced himself, saying, “How are you? I’m Dan Piano.”
The simple introduction was a good example of Daniel’s concern for others, the teacher noted, commenting on what an extraordinary person Daniel was.
“He was so much more mature than his peers – he became her favorite,” Colleen said.
And as she struggled daily with her grief, Colleen decided that she needed to create a memorial to her son; a place of peace where she could remember again the happy years that Colleen, Daniel’s father, also Daniel Piano, and their daughter, Julianne, had shared with Daniel.
After obtaining permission from the township, Colleen arranged for the construction of a memorial for Daniel at Corydon Hall, where Daniel had spent so many happy hours of his childhood.
The costs involved in creating the memorial were covered by private donations as well as donations of labor and materials. The memorial includes a brick walkway, a park bench and a Kwanzan Cherry tree.
On Nov. 20, the Piano family and their friends gathered at the memorial to share their tears, and to remember the gift of Daniel.