Just a few months after Rob and I married and only weeks after announcing to the family that we were pregnant with Kellan, my beautiful, strong mother-in-law, passed away due to complications from breast cancer. Donna was so kind and loving, she brightened any room with her twinkling smile and warm spirit. She was generous with her time and her love. When she was there you felt welcome. After her death, our family mourned, each in our own way.
Rob and I would occasionally talk about missing her, but often we avoided it because it was too painful and stirred up emotions that we didn’t want to face. Once the kids came along, life got busier, time passed, and talking about Donna felt even more difficult, because we didn’t know how to explain death and we didn’t want to scare them.
Eventually though we found opportunities: while looking at old pictures, reading stories that dealt with death, and this fall when we celebrated Dia de Los Muertos with the kids which really opened up the conversation and has allowed us to share about their nonna and our beliefs of what happens when we die.
A few weeks ago I wanted to take the kids somewhere to practice riding their bikes (our house is on a busy corner and I’m not comfortable with them riding around our neighborhood yet). So we decided we would take the kids and their bikes to Woodward Park. Driving into the park it dawned on us that we had yet to visit the Art of Life Healing Garden and we had not seen the tile our family made for Nonna that was displayed here. Though we had no idea what to expect, we thought we’d check it out.
What an incredibly special place and a very special day for our family.
One of the things that struck me as we explored the healing garden was the vibe. There seemed to be an unspoken understanding between visitors that this was not only a place to remember loved ones but also a place to celebrate life. It wasn’t quiet. There was conversation and laughter but it was peaceful and respectful. It felt alive. We explained to the kids that they could play and enjoy the beautiful park but told them that some people here might be sad so we need to be aware of our volume and behavior. They understood and did great.
Along with the tiled walls, there are other exhibits, tables, paths, benches and more that are dedicated to the remembrance of someone and for everyone to enjoy. A place to come be alive and find beauty and joy while mourning someone. A place to come to heal.
After wandering through the garden for a while the kids were ready to try out their bikes. The San Joaquin River Trail runs right along the healing garden so we took the bikes to the trail to give the kids some freedom to ride.
After we got tired of riding (and pushing) bikes we made one last stop at a small playground right in the area.
The kids enjoyed the natural play area and we enjoyed taking in this beautiful Fresno treasure.
Whether you are dealing with the loss of a loved one or not, we strongly encourage you to visit the Art of Life Healing Garden in Woodward Park. It is a beautiful piece of our community that helped us to feel more connected to our family and the human experience.