Four years after his sudden death, Sawyer Sweeten’s family is honoring him in the most loving way.
On Tuesday, Sawyer’s blended family and members of his second family, Loft Ensemble — a Los Angeles-based theater company — gathered at St. Matthew Lutheran Church in North Hollywood, California, to restore two old theaters on the church’s grounds in remembrance of the late actor, who died at age 19 in 2015.
Wearing black shirts with the words “Sawyer’s Crew,” those who knew and loved Sawyer joined together for a special dedication ceremony, where friends and family members shared a thought or memory through their form of art (songs, poems, etc.).
The family named the upstairs theater “Sawyer’s Playhouse” and marked it with a plaque that reads, “May this place be a light for all to find safety and friendship through creativity. Dedicated on April 23, 2019 by the Sawyer Sweeten Foundation, the Rosenthal Family Foundation, and Ray and Anna Romano.”
On April 23, 2015, the actor died by suicide while visiting family in Texas, where he and his twin brother, Sullivan, were born.
The twins played Geoffrey and Michael Barone on the hit sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond, which ran from 1996 to 2005. Their older sister Madylin also appeared on the show, playing their sibling Ally Barone on the series.
After Loft Ensemble was informed that it needed to move locations due to an increase in rent, Madylin and her peers decided to hold a fundraiser for a new theater, which quickly turned into a dedication for her late brother.
“We reached out to the Rosenthal family (Philip Rosenthal is the creator of Everybody Loves Raymond) and the Romanos and asked them if they’d be interested in participating as well,” the 27-year-old told PEOPLE. “They said not only would they be interested, they’d be interested in matching the Sawyer Sweeten Foundation. We’re very lucky that we were able to get enough to renovate both spaces.”
During the ceremony, Madylin opened up about her younger sibling and the lessons he taught her.
“My brother was a very deep and brute guy,” she said. “It worked for him. He wore it well. Most of the one-on-one conversations that I had with him were about the existential dilemmas that we have. He had so many ideas about what this was all about, where we go when we die and who we were meant to be not on this planet. He believed in things and in people and it’s what made him happiest.”
“I think that’s why he likes this place so much and why I feel him here,” she continued. “Everyone is so full of belief here and we jump over the barriers of our minds and we push ourselves to believe harder and to accept harder and to love harder here more than any place I’ve ever been. I feel him in the walls watching and guiding the young souls who come here who just need help believing. My brother told me once that belief in any form is so powerful that it creates our reality and the next reality that we’ll encounter, that believing in heaven and reincarnation is what makes it real. That particular belief of his gives me the most joy because he believed in everything so he is everywhere. I urge you, all of you to come here and find him when you need a light and when you need to believe.”
Sawyer’s mom, Elizabeth Gini, also opened up about her son.
“This is not a day I dread,” she told the crowd. “I don’t dread this day anymore. This is a day where my son is honored and thought of and talked about and it’s okay. There’s not any awkwardness around it. I can’t put into words how much that helps me. For that, I’m forever indebted.”
“There was never a dull moment where he wasn’t making me laugh,” she continued. “Sometimes to the point of frustration because I just wanted him to be serious for a minute. He was so funny. I liked the funny and the lightheartedness. He’s been with me the last couple of days and he’s been with me today. He’s made sure that we all know that. I think that’s really special. He would be very proud of this.”
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And while it’s been four years since his death, Sawyer’s memory will forever live on.
“It was rough in the beginning,” Madylin told PEOPLE. “I had always struggled with alcohol, so that got really bad for awhile. But I’m coming up on three years sober and I really feel like it’s because of this and this place. Sawyer really showed me that you have to live your life. I think I was in a place where people thought it was going to be me and it wasn’t and that was really shocking. There was guilt. There was always guilt. Having everybody here, everybody that cares about him, it makes it easier to bare. I think ultimately I just eventually realized that he’s not here to live anymore and so that’s our job. Our job is to live for him. I’m living up to my potential. I’m not standing in the shadows.”
She added, “I feel if Sawyer had a place like this, and if a lot of young people had a place like this, that they wouldn’t feel lost and wouldn’t feel the need to take their lives like he did. I feel like it’s really a beacon for young people. I think it’s something he’d be proud of.”