Bay Ridge Celebrates the Life of “Sweet Sally Sunshine”

Bay Ridge rallied one more time behind a family of its own on Sat., Nov. 3 as close to 1,000 people came together to celebrate the life of Sally Kabel, the six-year-old girl known to many as “Sweet Sally Sunshine.”

Sally died on Wednesday, Sept. 19, suddenly, following a nearly life-long battle with leukemia and complications the family has since said they didn’t see coming.

A funeral mass was held at 2 p.m. Saturday at St. Patrick Church, 9511 Fourth Ave., followed by a “Celebration of Life” in the parish school’s auditorium next door. There, guests spent their time as Sally lived: laughing, dancing, painting seashells and letting love be the light.

“It’s a part of closure,” Sally’s mom, Nicole Kabel, said of the event, which was organized by friends of the family and saw upwards of 100 volunteers throughout the day, “but it happened in a way that was both sad and joyful – rather than just sad.”

That, alone, Nicole said, is “the ultimate lesson of what Sally always gave to us.

“Even in the worst of it, there’s always something you can look at in a positive way. She was always looking on the bright side,” she said.

That carried through during the celebration, which evoked both sorrow and joy. Many of the adults were most moved, Nicole said, by a flash mob organized by local teens.

“I think a couple of people actually cried at the flash mob,” Sally’s mom said through a slight laugh, “because if you knew Sally, that was always kind of us. Even when the day was going horribly wrong, we would just turn on some music and spontaneously dance to try and get some joy going.”

A lot of attendees, Nicole added, felt Sally’s presence, especially, in the performance. “It’s just one of the things people fell in love with about her,” she said. “I don’t think anyone who showed up had ever experienced or mourned someone in such a joyful, expressive environment.”

Among the things that Sally loved, her mom said, was the beach. To honor that, kids and families decorated seashells at the memorial – alongside other interactive activities to engage the many youngsters – the keepsakes themselves from Breezy Point and Rockaway, Sally’s home away from home.

“We wanted to include as many parts of her life as possible,” Nicole said, noting that friends of the family flew in from as far as Kansas to remember Sally.

In doing so, some even surprised the Kabels.

“There were so many of those types of surprises,” Nicole said, “and, on the other hand, so many people who had never met us – people who followed her story or sent us cards along the years or heard about her in church – so many of them just came to say hi. It was all so wonderful and overwhelming.”

Though there were certainly some fresh faces, Nicole and Sally’s father, Matt Kabel, agree that, what their little girl had extends beyond the everyday definition of your typical “village.”

“One thing that stood out to me is that while at the event somebody asked me if I even knew a lot of the people there. I looked around the room at hundreds of faces and said, ‘actually, I know a lot of these people, and almost all the faces here. Sally not only had a big village, they were very engaged with her and our family,’” Matt said.

The village extends beyond Sally’s time on earth, and now huddles around the Kabels.

The Nov. 3 celebration was not the first time the Bay Ridge community honored Sally and her family. In the days following her untimely death, memorials ran the gamut, yellow and gold ribbons (the colors for childhood cancer awareness) adorning everything from homes and storefronts to the entrances to schools, lampposts and trees.

The family had asked the community to wear either of those colors the Friday after her passing in memory of their little girl. That they did, in droves.

The most recent memorial was also a sea of yellow and gold, guests encouraged to wear bright colors — “Sally’s favorite” — while enjoying food donated by local restaurants, friends and family, a live DJ, various musical performances, Christmas ornament decorating and a bevy of other activities.

Among the most important aspects, Nicole told this paper, was a “low-sensory room” away from the auditorium, which was good for both children and adults who needed to take a moment to reflect.

“This was a way to sort of mimic Sally’s life and express the way that she lived and some of the things that were so special to her,” Nicole said, adding that she and her family have “an amazing amount of gratitude and love” for their neighborhood.

“Bay Ridge is so much a part of us and we are so much a part of it,” Nicole said, joking that her husband – a loyal Buffalonian – has officially completed his transformation to a “small town Brooklyn” boy.

“There isn’t this much community everywhere,” Nicole said. “There isn’t always somebody to pick you up and I feel like that’s the difference here. And that’s a very beautiful and rare find.

“We know how much Sally is loved,” she added.

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