Column: A special grave marker for ‘Pop-Pop’

Something was missing. When 10-year-old Namiah Santacroce looked down at the gravesite of his late great-grandfather, Tom Santacroce, there was no indication at all of who was buried there. All he saw in front of him was a pile of dirt at St. Agnes Cemetery in Greenport.

That did not sit well with the East Marion boy, a fourth-grader and member of Boy Scout Troop 51.

“I thought there has to be something there,” he said.

A headstone had been ordered, but because of the impact of COVID-19, delivery would take some time. While young Namiah understood that, he was unsatisfied and did something about it. Having his “Pop-Pop” lying in an unmarked grave would not do, so he went about addressing the situation.

Mr. Santacroce, who suffered from Parkinson’s disease, died March 29. The East Marion man was 89.

A Greenport High School graduate, Army veteran and former Village of Greenport police officer, Mr. Santacroce was a devout Catholic and a big New York Yankees fan. His relationship with his great-grandson, relatives said, was close. Among their similarities: an enthusiasm for sports. The two enjoyed watching games together.

“They were very close,” Namiah’s mother, Ashley Santacroce, said. “Namiah really spoke to him a lot, you know, with him being elderly, to know he would just help him out, you know, go get the mail for him or bringing coffee to the table. He was very helpful to him. They had a very special relationship.”

Namiah said, “I miss my Pop-Pop.”

It is Namiah’s way to brighten people’s day by drawing pictures for them or writing letters, as he did to family members this past Christmas. “Namiah is very caring, very loving,” said Ashley.

And extraordinarily thoughtful, she added.

So, when Namiah visited the gravesite and saw no mention of his great-grandfather’s name, he was determined to do something about it. He decided to create his own temporary grave marker. With crayon and paper, he went to work on his colorful memorial. It features a smiling face in the upper left corner, a shining sun in the upper right, with hovering birds in between. The name “Thomas Santacroce” is printed in the middle. Along the bottom of the paper are renderings of flowers and a large heart.

Asked what he thought of his artwork, Namiah answered, “I thought it was amazing.”

Namiah’s grave marker, attached to a stick, was planted early last week. He was joined by his mother and great-grandmother, Marian, Tom’s wife of 60 years.

Understandably, her husband’s death has been difficult for Marian. “I miss him so much,” she said, adding, “You have other members of your family pass away, but when it’s your husband, it’s unbelievable pain.”

Perhaps Namiah’s actions soothed that pain a bit.

“He is a loving boy and I wouldn’t expect anything less of him,” Marian said. She said Namiah’s grave marker “touched my heart.”

Ashley said the scene left a lump in her throat. “My grandmother told him how thoughtful that was, how creative, and how happy it made her and how happy it made his Pop-Pop to know that he did that,” she said.

Namiah, who also decorated a rock that he plans to place on the grave when the headstone arrives, said, “I felt happy because there was something there that we could look at every single time we go there.”

Ashley said the three of them visit the gravesite every day and at last check Namiah’s personal marker remained standing.

She said, “We’ll still leave it there” after the headstone arrives.