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Garden remembers, celebrates children’s lives

 


Garden remembers, celebrates children’s lives

June 10, 2004   

A UMNS Feature
By Kathy L. Gilbert*

FRANKLIN, Tenn.— A garden on the edge of a busy intersection in this historic town celebrates and honors the lives of children and brings peace to the hearts of their parents.

Fifteen stones in the garden are engraved with the names of children who died too young.

The rude, noxious sounds and smells of the constant stream of traffic outside its gate fade as the serenity of this tiny oasis behind First United Methodist Church soothes those who enter.

One of the most striking features of the garden is a stone wall that remains unfinished on each end, symbolizing the unfinished lives of the children honored within. In every corner of the garden there are special touches, most of them from the imagination of Leon Jones.

Jones, 79, a member of First Church since 1992, says a former pastor mentioned one day that the church seemed to have more than its share of parents who had lost young children.

That simple remark struck a chord in Jones’ heart. “It just seemed like this forgotten group of children needed some kind of remembrance,” he explains.

He put a notice in the church newsletter asking for help with creating a children’s memorial garden “and eight people showed up just out of the clear blue sky,” he says. Some of them had lost children; others just felt drawn to the idea.

Jones, a father and grandfather, has never lost a child. Tears come to his eyes when he says he cannot imagine the pain parents must feel.

Mamie Jeter, who lost her daughter as the garden was being constructed, knows that pain. “You never want to see your child’s name etched in stone with a beginning and ending date,” she says.

Jeter’s daughter, Katie, a 19-year-old freshman at Western Kentucky College, died in a car accident.

“We come by almost every Sunday,” Jeter adds, stroking the simple stone that bears her daughter’s name. “It’s just a beautiful place. Katie came to church every Sunday. I have two boys and when they have children, their children can come here and see a memory of Katie.”

Beth Young says the garden, like everything else in her life since she lost her daughter, Amanda, is bittersweet. Young and her husband, Brent, were part of the committee of eight that worked to bring the garden to life.

Amanda Beth Young died on Feb. 12, 2002, at age of 6. She was diagnosed with leukemia when she was 2 years old. “She was wise beyond her years,” her mother says. “Everyone who knew her just loved her. She was a special little girl.”

Because purple was Amanda’s favorite color, Jones makes a special effort to include purple as much as possible in the garden.

The memorial garden has brought families together, many who did not know others in the congregation had also lost children.

Sarah McGinley lost her twin son and daughter almost 30 years ago. She and her husband donated their bodies to science and never had a stone anywhere to commemorate their short lives.

The McGinleys, who now have four children, say they felt a special need in their lives was fulfilled when they were able to place a stone engraved with their children’s names in the garden at the April 18 dedication service.

“Even though Rachel only lived three days and Benjamin 10 days, they’re in heaven just like someone who lived 50 years is in heaven, or 100 years is in heaven,” Sarah says. “There is a real sense of peace in having a place that you can come and just say, ‘Thank you, Lord.’”

Kristi Earwood, also a member of the garden committee, points to the two stones she placed for the twin sons she lost soon after birth, Evan Scott and Spencer Christopher.
She now has two other children but says this garden gives her a place to come and be reminded of the gifts her first two children gave her.

“What a wonderful church family we have that embraces and dedicates this space to the memory of these children,” says Jeter.

*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer.

News media can contact Kathy L. Gilbert at (615) 742-5470 or e-mail  newsdesk@umcom.org.

 

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