Click Here to see the video about the Survivors of Suicide Memory Garden. Below is the transcript of the video.
Each year more than 40,000 people in the United States die by suicide. In Florida, it is the 9th leading cause of death.
For those lost each year it is estimated that at least six others are intimately affected by each suicide and are left to survive the terrible loss. Family members, friends, co-workers – these are the survivors of suicide. Often left stunned and troubled by the powerful reactions and emotions they experience. Shock, depression, anger, relief, guilt and the question that is sometimes never answered … “Why”?
Survivors of any death need comfort, support, and trusted listeners with whom they can discuss and share their grief. The stigma of suicide and the shame, guilt, and blame that people feel, however, can often isolate survivors of suicide in their grief.
Our goal was to create a space, a place, where there is no stigma, no shame. Simply a garden where loved ones can come to reflect, to heal and to be together.
The Survivors of Suicide Memory Garden, located in Cofrin Nature Park in Gainesville, FL, was built to provide survivors with a place to go to honor and remember loved ones. A place that allows for healing, understanding and forgiveness. A place to support and be supported by other survivors. A place of calm that allows for preparation to the return of a new reality.
The design of the garden is intentional. The landscape architects offer different areas of the Garden, or “rooms”, as a reflection of the journey from what once was to a new reality – that of a survivor.
Upon entering the Garden, the pathway leads to the gathering space referred to as the Trellis Area. This first room of the Garden brings Survivors together; a place to meet and join with others who have experienced and share the same emotional investment in a loss. The idea is that there is strength in numbers. The Trellis Area, with its benches and brick floor, offers a view of the entire garden. Butterflies and hummingbirds gathering nectar from the native wildflowers, birds eating from a bird feeder and flowering trees in the spring.
As the Survivor’s journey continues, there is almost a constant need to understand and come to grips personally with the loss. The second room of the Garden is the Labyrinth. The labyrinth offers a meditative journey, creating a sacred place away from the chaos of life. No tricks or dead ends – instead, one path winds toward a central point, perhaps walked with a developing awareness, a heightened understanding, or a greater appreciation of our lives along our much longer journey.
Reflection here may touch sorrow or release joy. This walking meditation may bring about acceptance of self and of others along with recognition that many may be on the same path, but often at different turning points.
The center of the labyrinth is marked by a brick engraved with a stanza from the Jewish prayer “We Remember Them”. “At the rising of the sun and at it’s going down, We Remember Them”.
Many of the bricks in the center of the labyrinth and on the walkway out are engraved with the names of loved ones lost.
From the labyrinth, the path leads to the third room of the Garden - the “Remembrance” Area. Six life-size basalt columns of various heights surround a broken basalt column in the ground. Local Gainesville artist Greg Johnson was selected to design the sculpture.
“Basalt forms a natural patina over its surface that has often been referred to as skin covering a black smooth interior. The elements I thought should touch upon are the human scale, the average 6 people strongly impacted by a suicide, the visible skin/hidden interior, the immovable nature of the stone, the groupings of the human experience (the family, the couple, the lone person), fractures vs. integrity, the absence addressed by hollows and holes, wounding addressed by pock-marks and frosting.”
Moving out of the Remembrance Area signifies the continuance of the journey yet with a new life as a Survivor; a life that is forever changed but is still full of people, responsibilities and joy. The path exiting the Garden leads to the final room, the creekside bench. In the shade of the tree canopy, overlooking the creek, the area calms and quiets the soul so the Survivor can return to life. The sounds of the babbling brook mixed with children’s laughter from the playground across the creek offer a symbol of renewal for the Survivor and for life in general.
The Survivors of Suicide Memory Garden in Cofrin Nature Park took 4 years, and countless volunteer man-hours, to complete. To date, it is the largest and most diverse Survivors Garden in the world.
Each year the Survivors Of Suicide Memory Garden hosts the annual Survivors Of Suicide Candlelight Vigil held the Saturday before Thanksgiving in conjunction with International Survivors of Suicide Day. The Garden also serves as a site for the Memory Tree of Lights Project which provides comfort to those who have lost a loved one to suicide during the Holiday Season.