The Story Behind The Children's Garden

A Children’s Garden in Flagstaff?  Why is that important, and why should I support it?

I think that it is a novel idea and will bring some much needed seating to a very popular park in town for watching soccer, flag football, and having picnics in the shade. But is it really more than that, and if so, why is it important? 

Eleven years ago I believe that these same questions would be ones I would be asking myself.  As a young person in our community with a 2 year old son I would be looking forward to a new space to explore with him, and how unique a space like this would be for our beautiful mountain community.

Then, ten years ago when we were expecting our second son, we lost him at birth and everything I knew, and had known, changed.  The world inside and outside my home had changed, I had changed. I longed to hold my son, JLB, (Jack’s Little Brother), to lay next to him and to share him with his brother Jack. The only way I knew to do so was to frequently visit the cemetery. The cemetery felt heavy. It was the turn in the road that no one took, and if you did the passers by would give you a look of sadness. I tried to make our visits fun. We would take books, bubbles, and Jack’s tricycle there to ride around on the roads of the cemetery. 

As time passed, I started attending a local grief group. It was one for anyone who had lost a child of any age.  In the group there were couples who had lost their babies shortly after conception, me who had lost my son at full term, a man who had lost his son in a skiing accident at the age of 40, and another who had lost her son from a fluke accident at the age of 32.  Every time I left the group, my heart would ring with “there needs to be a place to celebrate these lives, the love that we have for them, the ways that they have changed us, and the gifts we have received from having them in our lives.”  In group, there was always talk of not feeling welcomed at the cemetery, having cremated their loved one and not having a place to go to reflect and celebrate them. And the conversations continued, and continued.

It was through these meetings and my journaling, that a dream of a place of healing came to be. With the help of our beautiful town we could build it together.  It could be a place where friends, family, siblings, and strangers could feel embraced, a place of peace in a park that is so programmed, a place to just be.

After years of working with the city of Flagstaff, a lot of hard work, and a village of supporters who also believed in the idea, we have built the Children’s Garden of Flagstaff!  It is more than I could have ever envisioned in my journaling and dreaming, because when you invite others into your dreams they become bigger, and better things happen. With faith and lots of stubbornness, the right people stepped up and said “I want to help!” And on May 21st we will install the first round of memorial plaques that will fill more than half of the wall, we will have a ribbon cutting, and all of us will come together to turn over the soil and plant new life in celebration and in memory of our children.

Thank you Flagstaff, you are a truly special place with a very ((( BIG))) HEART!

Anna Labenz
JLB Project & Children's Garden Founder