Memorial Gardens Help Soothe Loss

When tragedy strikes—anything from the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings to the 9/11 terrorist attacks–or a loved one dies, grief-stricken people seek ways to honor those who’ve passed away. What better to do that than through a living tribute such as a tree planting or memorial garden?

Memorial gardens can be as simple as a rock garden or as elaborate as professionally landscaped tourist attractions.  After 9/11, memorial gardens sprang up across the country as people struggled to cope with the loss. The jewel of the 9/11 tributes is the Garden of Reflection 9-11 Memorial, which honors all 2,973 killed on Sept. 11, 2001. Located in Bucks County, Pa., the garden was designed by architect Liuba Lashchyk, and includes reflective pools constructed with quartzite stone, concentric pathways and landforms, sculptures and the names of every victim etched on glass panels held in a stainless steel curved rail. Flanking the entrance are 58 Red Forest Pansy trees representing the 58 victims from the state of Pennsylvania. The garden is intended to give visitors a sense of  “Hope, Peace and Celebration of Life.”

memorial garden

The Garden of Reflection 9-11 Memorial is Pennsylvania’s official memorial to the victims of 9-11.

An official garden paying homage to the victims of the Sandy Hook shooting is the early stages. Early plans include a plaque with the victims’ names and flowers grown by current Sandy Hook students. Others have already put forth their own tributes: A Daisy Girl Scout troop in Riverside Elementary, in Crestview, Fla., created a bird bath and stepping stone in memory of the Sandy Hook children in their school’s kindergarten butterfly garden.

On a similar scale, the Grand Traverse Children’s Garden in downtown Traverse City, Mich., has a memorial area. Simple wooden plaques are painted in tribute to those who’ve passed away, along with a sectioned off garden with annuals and perennials. Sometimes a large rock is painted with the name and prayers for those who’ve died.

memorial garden

A simple wooden sign and an angel statue serve as a poignant memorial at the Grand Traverse Children Garden in Traverse City, Michigan

For a fee, churches and park districts in many towns will often plant a tree or bush “in memoriam” an individual or group of people, usually marked with a permanent plaque. The fee should not only cover the cost of the planting and marker, but also its maintenance over the cost of the tree or bush.  At The Morton Arboretum for $1,000, a memorial gift allows donors to select trees, benches or customized gifts to celebrate a special occasion or to remember loved ones.

And while nothing can bring back a loved one, a tree or perennial that awakens to life every spring can help soothe the pain and the healing process.

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