A tribute to the children

Memorial tree at BGH Healing Garden to commemorate children who have passed

By Ben Olson
Reader Staff

There is nothing quite as painful as when a parent loses a child. Kristina Orton knows that pain all too well after her son, Patrick, passed away at just 24 years old in 2013.

From left to right: Kristina Orton, Dan Mimmack, Betty Gardner, Todd Gardner and Lissa DeFreitas stand behind the Family Tree.
Photo courtesy BGH.

While Orton has been active in the Bonner General Health grieving parents support group, she recently began thinking of a more tangible way to honor children taken too soon.

“I had this awareness that there was nothing to mark children who have passed in the community,” Orton said.

She contacted Lissa DeFreitas, volunteer coordinator for BGH Community Hospice, and began the year-long process of brainstorming and planning what would eventually culminate in the installation of a memorial tree at the BGH Healing Garden, dedicated to children who are gone but certainly not forgotten.

Orton and DeFreitas brought local artist Betty Gardner into the project, hoping she would be inspired to create an art piece that captured the essence of their idea. It turned out to be a personal journey for Gardner, as well.

“My family lost a child,” Gardner said. “My brother was killed six weeks after he graduated from high school … and it devastated our family. My parents never recovered.”

Gardner was struck by the poignant cause and threw herself into it wholeheartedly.

“For a good year, we talked about this and shot ideas around,” Gardner said.

The idea finally congealed as a memorial tree, with leaves for sale on which parents can etch their children’s names and birthdays. As for a site for the tree, organizers thought, what better place to install such a memorial than the children’s section at the BGH Healing Garden?

Gardner completed the piece after almost 60 hours of work — all of it donated. 

“Every single twist or turn of the branch means I had to heat that pipe to bright red, put it into a vice and hit it with a hammer,” said Gardner of the small tree, fashioned entirely of metal. “It’s kind of like forging.”

While Gardner donated her time to craft the sculpture, BGH donated the materials to put it together. Local artist Gail Lyster also created a tile sign depicting the sculpture as “The Family Tree.” The piece was installed last month at the Healing Garden. The copper leaves will be added at a dedication ceremony Friday, Aug. 3 at 5 p.m.

For parents interested in purchasing leaves to honor a child who has passed, BGH is offering a discount for the first round of orders. For $40, parents can purchase the heart-shaped leaf with their child’s birthday and name etched into copper. The price will normally be $50.

“There are an awful lot of people who have lost children,” Orton said. “It’s a very private, difficult thing to go through, but there’s a camaraderie. No one understands it unless you’ve been through it. But this has the potential to give a moment of pause or comfort for the parents.”

BGH is committed to helping parents cope with their loss through a variety of educational and support groups at no cost. There are grief support meetings for adults, a monthly meeting for parents grieving the loss of a child and an annual Kids’ Camp for kids ages 8-17 who are grieving a loss. For more information, visit bonnergeneral.org/supportgroups. To purchase leaves for The Family Tree, contact Lissa DeFreitas at 208-265-1185.

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