Celebrating, remembering and honoring children we’ve lost
By Jillian Chandler
There is a beautiful garden here in Sandpoint; a tranquil space for those who are facing difficult times, a place to honor and remember loved ones we’ve lost, and just a peaceful oasis to escape the busyness and stresses of life. “Our Healing Garden provides a place of quiet reflection, remembrance and solace for our entire community,” shares Tami Feyen of Bonner General Health Community Hospice.
The Healing Garden, which sits at roughly an acre on the grounds of Bonner General Hospital, was dedicated in 2004 and is completely maintained by community volunteers and funded through donations from the community, as well as through fundraising events such as their Garden Galas.
Within this garden, visitors will find the Children’s Remembrance Garden, which was dedicated in August of 2019. Here lives the “Family Tree, the vision of longtime Sandpoint resident Kristina Orton, whose son Patrick, a renowned photographer, passed away at the age of 25. She was looking for a way to help other parents, and our community, honor children lost.
“I had this vision. In Israel they have the Wailing Wall, and it occurred to me that there was nowhere for people to go to have their children recognized,” she recalls. “Not everyone can afford a gravesite, so it was important to me that these children be recognized in a place where parents can go and think about their children.”
Kristina brought her vision to Lissa Defrietas (Bonner Community Hospice bereavement and volunteer coordinator), and Lissa began to coordinate with individuals to realize Kristina’s vision. It would be Hospice volunteer and welder/artist Betty Gardner who would ultimately answer the call.
Betsy had lost a brother in a work-related accident when he was 18, and his death devastated their mother, who was never able to move on from it. Betsy agreed to come up with a few designs—one being a metal tree about the size of a dormant fruit tree, with branches that could support copper heart-shaped leaves engraved with the names and birthdates of children who had died. She called it the “Family Tree.”
“The first name I hung on the tree was Patrick for Kristina, and the second was David, for my brother,” says Betsy. “Every time I hang new leaves, I read the names of each child to myself. I say a prayer that they are in a good place in their journey. I grieve for each person who has a loved one’s name there.
“I love the fact that there are so many little trinkets hung on the tree, most likely by the people who love and miss someone,” she adds. “The glass blue bird in the nest in the tree was a gift to me by my mother-in-law who has passed away. It symbolizes hope. The sculpture’s names make me understand that there are others who have had a similar loss as my family. We share both the loss and the love. It makes us feel less alone in our grief and connected.”
To honor those children who have left us all too soon, the first annual Celebration of Life gathering in the garden is planned for May 31 at 4pm. As Tami shares, this event will be a gathering of community for anyone who wishes to attend; a time of celebration of lives who have touched us, a time of reflection and gathering together to remember.
“As humans, we experience love. It is the greatest gift of all. Because we love, we will also experience loss at some time. Having traditions, ways to honor that love and those individuals so important to us, is vital to healing and growth,” notes Tami.
As Kristina adds: “It must be comforting, in a strange way, for other parents to see how many other children have left and passed on, and we’re in this horrible club no one wants to be in, but comrades of those who understand the pain and grief, can recognize their children, form community and connection, and honor the child.”
Bonner General Health Community Hospice is the only nonprofit hospice serving Bonner and Boundary counties and has been serving our communities for more than 30 years. Their priority is our community, those persons they support with their Holistic in-home Hospice care and their loved ones. Hospice also provides bereavement support for our community, whether a person has been touched by BGH’s Hospice program directly, or not. It is Bonner General Health Community Hospice’s greatest honor to serve our community.