Shirley Lewis says she was never taught to grieve. So when her adult daughter Kris McDonald died in June 2004 from a head injury after she fell from a moving golf cart, Shirley and her husband, Kenny, left work for five weeks and took to gardening.
Shirley Lewis says she was never taught to grieve.
So when her adult daughter Kris McDonald died in June 2004 from a head injury after she fell from a moving golf cart, Shirley and her husband, Kenny, left work for five weeks and took to gardening.
"It gave us something to do," said Shirley, of Dunlap. "It was very therapeutic."
Friends stopped by with plants and flowers and helped tend the land.
But the couple didn't find immediate relief.
More than three years after Kris' death uprooted their lives, the couple is still trying to find solace.
They're not the only ones digging deep to alleviate grief. Many families find comfort in personalized memorial gardens dedicated to deceased loved ones.
Shirley looks out her kitchen window and into the yard each morning at the triangular memorial garden dedicated to Kris.
Before Kris' death, Shirley planted wildflowers in the plot, though they looked more like weeds. Kris teased her that the wildflowers were dead and promised to bring hostas from a friend to spruce up the area. Shirley was still waiting at the time of Kris' death.
After Kris' funeral, the friend brought hostas for the garden. Each July, they spread their large, green leaves. Double impatiens bloom. In the spring, tulips blossom.
A large engraved beige stone reads, "Kris, No farewell was spoken, No time to say goodbye. You were gone before we knew it. And only God knows why."
"In the morning, the sun seems to hit that first," Shirley said.
A wooden chair, small windmill and two shepherd hooks decorate the garden.
One is heart-shaped and holds wind chimes from Kris' yard. The other has an angel perched on top of a heart, with the words "Dearly Missed."
"Dearly missed - that just about sums it up," said Kenny, who enjoys keeping the flowers alive in Kris' memory.
Another small garden near the front door has grasses, the last plant Kris gave Shirley, and another memorial plaque.
"Our whole yard is a garden," Shirley said.
The couple, who've lived in the house for all 36 years of their marriage, have memories for nearly every plant in their yard. Trees symbolize anniversaries and firs signify Christmases.
"Everything has a story," Shirley said.
And Kris has hers, which the Lewises don't shy away from sharing.
"The joy is what we miss - her laughter," Shirley said. "She walked into a room and just lit it up. We were proud to be her parents."
Sending Back Butterflies
David Bloom created his own memorial garden - though he didn't know it at the time.
The former owner of Martini's on Water Street, Johnny Vig's and Dominic's Restaurant in the Metro Centre gave his father Larry a fountain for Father's Day in 2000, hoping to place it in White Oak Lake behind his parents' Germantown Hills home.
But the large lake swallowed up the 4-foot fountain and didn't provide the effect he'd hoped for.
So Bloom installed a garden against his parents' deck, complete with flagstone, river rocks and hostas. He set the fountain near the top so that water trickles down from a small pool and ripples over rocks into the lake.
"I love the sound of it," his mother, Joanne Bloom, said. "It's just so peaceful to come out here and sit on the bench."
David died in August 2004 from injuries sustained in a two-vehicle collision during a vacation in Mexico. He was 28.
Joanne especially enjoys the garden because, though she plants a few annuals each year, it still displays David's original handiwork.
"It's exactly like it was when Dave did it," she said. "I like it to be the same."
Yuccas, moss roses, daisies and seashells adorn the garden. Two statues - one of an angel and one of a boy holding a dragonfly - sit serenely.
A black plaque expresses the garden's sentiments - "Celebrating the life of David Bloom" - in gold letters.
The garden is a celebration of his life, said Joanne, who's certain her son's spirit lingers. She's especially reminded of him when she sees black butterflies. One landed on the shoulder of a grieving friend at David's burial. Another graced the ceremony at the Sun Foundation's Art & Science in the Woods camp when a bronze raven created by Preston Jackson was dedicated to David. (The Blooms plan to temporarily add the raven to the garden.) And she constantly sees them in his garden.
"Dave is still sending the black butterflies to fill us with hope and the promise of the next world," Joanne said.
It's that faith that keeps her from grieving deeply. And David's garden.
"We're lucky to have something he built," she said.
Overlooking the Ballfield
Early spring through late fall is prime time for baseball and softball diamonds to come alive with pickup games and pop flies.
Appropriate then that the memorial garden dedicated to Charles Sadler, who loved playing softball, comes alive with daffodils, tulips, irises, peonies, lilies, roses and daisies from spring to fall.
The garden sits across from a practice field on the southwest corner of Western Illinois University in Macomb where Sadler, a former history professor at the university, played softball for the history department. He died in 1985 of pancreatic cancer at age 44.
Charles' wife Judy said she worked with landscaper Rick Fox and his Timberhill Nurseries staff for about two years to plan for and design the garden, which was dedicated in 2003, about 18 years after Charles' death.
"We waited for a long time to find something," Judy said. "I was standing on a hill and realized that it was right across the street and the plot looks right across to that field. All of a sudden it just dawned on me."
She visits the garden often to read, reflect and amble through its greenery. She especially likes the irises because they were transplanted from Charles' garden and the peonies because they were his favorite.
"It's really a beautiful garden," she said. "It's a few years old now, and it's just come into its own. It's a very peaceful and restful place."
The garden also contains butterfly bushes, shrubs, Illinois grasses, birch trees - his favorite - and a redbud tree in the middle. Benches provide spots for rest and reflection, and a brick pathway sits on the garden's edge.
Judy said her husband loved gardening, so the memorial was an extension of his life.
"It was something that was dear to his heart," she said, "so it was dear to us."
A Single Sunflower
When she was alive, Samantha Bradford loved sunflowers.
"She said, 'Dad, plant sunflowers,' one year," her father, Ray Bradford, said. "I haven't missed planting them in 27 years."
Samantha died of complications from cystic fibrosis in May 1996, one day shy of her 21st birthday. By August of that year, Ray had created a garden in her memory. He outlined the garden with red bricks and placed a white angel statue in the middle. He planted a variety of roses, also Samantha's favorite. But he didn't plant sunflowers.
One grew anyway - behind the angel statue.
"I have no idea who planted it," he said.
Ray and wife Sandy have another garden at their East Peoria home, where sunflowers and green beans and tomatoes grow. But "Samantha's Garden" - as a wooden sign proclaims - is special. It constantly reminds Ray of his daughter.
"Every day, I think of her," he said. "That's one thing you never forget."
Ray also included a statue of a basset hound in the garden to symbolize Samantha's beloved Mr. Peepers. She was especially attached to the dog, who brooded whenever Samantha was away from home and in the hospital.
"That dog would mope around the house," Sandy said. "She'd talk to him on the phone when she was in the hospital."
Mr. Peepers didn't last without Samantha - he died five months after she did.
But the family doesn't focus on death.
Samantha's 14-year-old niece Autum Greeson, who relatives say is Samantha reincarnate, said her aunt's memory won't die.
"A garden thrives for life," Autum said. "The garden is alive, so she's still alive."
Peoria Journal Star
Jacqueline Koch can be reached at email@example.com.