Our Memory Garden

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As Memorial Day approaches, I think of our Memory Garden at school.  It is a place to host our Memorial Day Remembrance for children and families, and a place to celebrate the hero in all of us on Kindness Peace and Love Day, each September 11th.

Over the years, the Memory Garden has grown in scope.  It has become an oasis of remembering and reflecting for children.  It is a place of peace.

I wrote this last year about our Memory Garden:

Our Memory Garden at school is a raised bed of beauty; flowers, sculptures, American flags, and a collection of painted rocks, all to mark classroom pets and loved ones who have died over the years. The garden sits quietly as children run and play alongside. It is welcoming, and children who visit inevitably ask questions.

Additionally, there is a flat paving stone with a carved dragonfly in remembrance of Taylor, a little boy in our school who died some years ago. Taylor adored dragonflies. Yesterday I noticed the garden needed weeding, and sat on the low stone wall to take care of Taylor’s dragonfly. Emma came over to ask what I was doing. She wanted to help me weed. That was the beginning of a remarkable series of events about dying.

Yes – dying – the word that scares teachers and parents. The “D” word. Something they hope they’ll never have to talk about until their child is older. I wasn’t scared.

Emma noticed the dragonfly and we weeded together to make things beautiful again. She was quiet, and this work seemed to be soothing to her. Well, that’s what I thought at first. Yet, it was far more than the weeding that was soothing Emma which I would soon discover. Ever-cheerful Scarlet bounced over with her signature big smile and curiosity. It was Scarlet’s first real visit to the garden.

“What’s that statue?”
“It’s a baby deer.. It’s for someone who died long ago.”
“Died? Is he under the deer?”
“Oh, no. People would have to be buried in a real cemetery.”
Long pause…
“Scarlet, the deer helps us to remember the person. See how beautiful his eyes are? We can remember the good. All statues and painted rocks represent pets and people who have died”, I said waving my arm across the garden. “Look here. What are those letters on the green rock?”
“They spell P-E-E-P”.
“Peep was our Guinea pig before Ella.”
“Emma, do you remember Peep?”

Emma nodded her head yes. She was there to love Peep when he was alive, and she was there when he died. Emma had not talked this entire conversation. She had not even made eye contact with either of us.  I told the children how Peep was buried deep under the rock in a pink lunchbox. I told them the story of how he had died at Audrey’s house on Christmas Eve, and how we had buried him in the snowy weather.

Then we talked about Peep and all the things he did when he was alive. We looked at the blue rock for Goldie the fish, and the rock for Sparky, and for many other pets. I told them stories of our first guinea pig. We weeded and talked. Finally Emma said, “My Nana died yesterday. She was ninety-five.” Relief.  She said it.  We talked some more, but now it was Emma who did the talking, all about her Nana.

Scarlett jumped right in, “My sister Ruby died.”
My silence must have been deafening. “Do you want to tell us about it?”
“Yup. She was bigger than me. She died in Mom’s belly before I was born. We have her birthday every year.”

Elena, the inquisitive and thoughtful one, walked right over to Scarlet. “What happened? Your sister died?” And, Scarlett told the whole story over again, including the birthday part. Emma asked me if all the animals in the Memory Garden celebrated birthdays. I told her I didn’t know, but wouldn’t that be a wonderful thing. Everyone nodded and looked at me, hoping I could make something happen, or perhaps make things ‘right’ for the animals.

“Let’s sing Happy Birthday to everyone. What do you think”. Squeals of “yes”, hand-clapping, and jumping up and down told me that singing the song was indeed a good idea. We all held hands, including other children who had gathered at the Memory Garden, and belted out Happy Birthday, twice. It felt good. The children were satisfied.

Our Memory Garden is an open door for children to wonder about the circle of life and ask questions.  Don’t we all need that?  Don’t we need a remembrance, a garden to weed and take care of, and others who can listen and understand?

The next evening a friend and fellow teacher came over for dinner.  As we walked outside she noticed my dragonfly stepping stone in my garden.  We stopped.  This was a moment for her, beautiful memories after a tragedy.  When we walked out to sit by the pool, a rare ‘dragonfly show’ suddenly appeared.  Imagine that!

blue-dragonfly

Jennie

About Jennie

I have been teaching preschool for over thirty years. This is my passion. I believe that children have a voice, and that is the catalyst to enhance or even change the learning experience. Emergent curriculum opens young minds. It's the little things that happen in the classroom that are most important and exciting. That's what I write about. I am highlighted in the the new edition of Jim Trelease's bestselling book, "The Read-Aloud Handbook" because of my reading to children. My class has designed quilts that hang as permanent displays at both the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia, and the Fisher House at the Boston VA Hospital.
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45 Responses to Our Memory Garden

  1. The most beautiful story of death ever told. You handle those subjects so well. I have made a memory garden in my yard to remember loved ones. Lilac bushes for each member and a special stone marker for a pet long gone when I had no home of my own. I don’t think I knew about death until I was about 11. These children understand life at preschool age. Wow!

    • Jennie says:

      I never had a memory garden as a child, nor talked about death, either. If I talk about it with children and answer questions, it all feels so natural. So much better than how we grew up! Thank you for telling me about your memory garden, Marlene. Lilac bushes are lovely! I’m so glad you liked my story. 🙂

  2. Darlene says:

    Always hard to talk about death with children but important.

  3. srbottch says:

    Absolutely beautiful, Jen.

  4. Dan Antion says:

    What a wonderful way to handle a difficult subject.

  5. GP Cox says:

    You’ve given parents and teachers alike a way to explain death and why we wish to remember those that have gone.

  6. So wonderful. I love the idea of a memory garden. I might have to look into that. What a beautiful way of remembering

  7. Your memory garden is such a beautiful idea. As always, your children are so fortunate to have you as their teacher.

  8. A beautiful story that sent chills down my spine, What a wonderful teacher you are. I would have been proud to be in your class, and your students will never forget you. Kudos to you. xo

  9. frenchc1955 says:

    Reblogged this on charles french words reading and writing and commented:
    This is another excellent post by a dedicated teacher.

  10. I think your memory garden post last year was one of the first posts of yours that I read, Jennie. It’s so wonderful that your kids have a safe place to share and talk about those who have died. As a children’s grief counselor for years, I can happily say that you are doing everything right. What a blessing for these children. ❤ ❤ ❤

  11. beetleypete says:

    Another story of how you prepare such young children for the rigours of growing up, beautifully told. And the dragonfly appearing was a startling coincidence too.
    Best wishes, Pete.

  12. L. Marie says:

    What a beautiful way to help the children learn! Well done! Teacher’s like you really make a difference in a child’s life.

  13. That dragonfly was sent by God. 🙂 What an extraordinary story written by sensitive, intuitive, special lady!

    Paulette L. Motzko

  14. It would be nice if all children learned about death in this comforting way. So many of us tend to protect our children as we might have been ourselves and then when they/we finally know what it’s all about it’s downright shocking. Wonderful that the children participated in the discussion and enjoyed singing ‘Happy Birthday’ later, they ‘got it!”

    • Jennie says:

      Yes, it would certainly be nice if children learned this way. They are so open and natural to learning and asking questions. It’s the adults that have difficulty. I thought singing “Happy Birthday” was perfect. 🙂

  15. Di says:

    A stunning post Jennie. Thank you 💐

  16. Pingback: Our Memory Garden | SEO

  17. reocochran says:

    Very nicely revisited, Jennie. A timeless practice with caring meaning embodied in your thoughtful words and symbols within the Memory Garden.

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