The Inspiration

After my father passed when I was twelve, I went through a time in my life when I felt very alone. Because of this experience, I realized that no one can take away the pain that comes after losing someone, but I could try and make it an easier journey to travel for others.

I started a grief support group at Wellwood Middle School when I was a freshman in high school. The group was, and still continues to be, about understanding grief, remembering, memorializing and creating a safety net; an almost family-like atmosphere where we remind each other that it’s okay to be sad, to cry, to grieve, and talk about your feelings. But it’s also okay to be happy, too. A parent of one of the students at Wellwood suggested creating a memory garden. The idea of having a place where people could go to remember their loved ones, reflect and find comfort became the driving force behind the project. In October of 2011 this vision finally became a reality; a special place where we can come together as a community and share a common bond of peace.

I have met with the Village of Fayetteville Mayor and Board of Trustees and presented the Memory Garden concept to them. They supported the idea and have worked with volunteers, local contractors, and myself to build the garden adjacent to the Fayetteville Senior Center on Route 5 in Fayetteville. We’ve worked with several local companies; Dalpos Architects & Integrators, Hueber Breuer Construction Co. Inc., O’Brien & Gere Engineering, , Allied, J&J Landscaping, Cross Creek Nursery, J.K. Tobin, Paragon Pavers and Byrnes Brothers who have volunteered their design & management services to help make this garden a reality. We established a not-for-profit organization with M&T Bank helping us establish the appropriate account for donations and raised the funds to make the project a possibility.

The Realization

The main feature of the garden is a pathway of bricks in the shape of a ribbon. In FMG’s early stages this idea seemed appropriate to symbolize Cancer, but as the project designs developed over time the ribbon began to symbolize hope and courage which is what the garden is all about. Courage to be able to continue through the hard times along with the Hope to find it in yourself to be able to reflect and know how strong you are. The take away message is: it does not matter if you are black or white, what college you go to or don’t go to, who you are dating, where you’re from, or how much money you have in your pocket. Life is about using yourself to better another person’s life in a way that wouldn’t have happened if you didn’t exist. It is about the giving and receiving of gifts from the heart. We have all experienced the feeling of loneliness-whether it be from the death of a parent, a divorce, competition in school, it can be anything. The point is, as individuals we have all experienced desperation. I hope that as a community we can come together to remind each other that we do not have to fight these battles alone. To know that it is okay to cry, it is okay to grieve, and it is okay to be happy too. I believe this project can change our community, if we let it.

Brick pavers, benches, trees, lighting, pergolas, a landscape wall, a water feature can be engraved in memory/honor of someone, along with the flowers, this will contribute to the peaceful oasis. This project has already begun to bring our community together and I know will continue to do so for years to come. It serves as a physical reality of courage and gives us all an opportunity to walk down the pathway of bricks and take a moment to read the names, knowing that each brick has a story behind it.

If you are interested in helping with the continuation of this project, either through a donation of cash, time, materials, or by purchasing an engraved brick or landscape feature item, please contact me, Rachael Ristau. Thank you in advance.