Grown through grief

In her own words, Ristau, a junior at Fayetteville-Manlius High School, describes the memory garden, what it was like to lose a parent at such a young age, and how her experiences have made an impact on her life.

What inspired you to create a memory garden?

After losing my dad when I was a seventh-grader, I went through a time in my life where I felt very alone because I truly thought I was the only one to have ever lost a parent. In reality, I couldn't have asked for a better support group. Any time I needed anything, someone was always there to talk. I felt most safe when I was in school around people who I had grown up with who frequently told me that I didn't have to go through the experience alone.

My dad was one of those parents whose home was always open to my friends, which is one of the things I admired most about him. He made you feel like family, so although none of them had lost a dad, I still felt like we were all grieving together in some way.

Never wanting anyone to feel how I felt, like they had no one to relate with, I started a grief support group at Wellwood Middle School when I was a freshman in high school. The group is about understanding grief, remembering, memorializing and creating a safety net and almost family-like atmosphere where we remind each other that it's okay to be sad and cry and grieve and talk about your feelings. But it's also okay to be happy, too.

In December, a parent of one of the students at Wellwood suggested a memory garden. I absolutely loved the idea of having a common place where people could come together and create that support group in our community, which is much needed. I took the idea to the mayor and he suggested next to the senior center in Fayetteville, but to come back with better sketches. In March, we met again after I had been on the news and in the editorial section of The Post-Standard. Dalpos Architects put an entire computer-generated design together and it took the project to a whole new level. From there, I just continually fell into good luck with the amount of people who wanted to help. It truly amazes me how much everyone really wants to be involved in this.

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