Garden at Hilton Head Hospital gives parents a place to heal
It was only by chance that two women struck up a conversation 16 years ago at a Hilton Head Island park.
Julie Feldman has just moved to Hilton Head when she chatted with Amy Metzger. They talked about children and Feldman mentioned her daughter Sara was stillborn just six weeks before. Amy said her son Jacob was stillborn years earlier.
They agreed that up until then, they had felt pretty alone in their grief.
“There wasn’t anything on the island (for people who had lost babies). We talked about the national vigil in October and talked about doing something at the hospital,” Feldman said.
They thought about maybe installing a plaque or planting a tree.
Instead, the hospital offered an acre of land for a garden.
“We had a lot of fundraisers and completed it in a year,” Feldman said.
Today, the garden is a peaceful place where people can catch their breath and remember their lost child. More than 400 bricks are adorned with the names of children who died far too young.
Both Metzger and Feldman said the benefit of the garden is it shows parents they aren’t alone. Others have suffered the same devastating loss and understand their pain.
Kelly DeVincentis lost her son Mike in a car accident 10 years ago when he was 18.
“The garden is a special place where you can go and reconnect with the person you’ve lost, “ she said. “It gives you a place to sit and think about them and honor them. It gives you peace. Seeing all those bricks, it makes me realize I’m not alone.”
DeVincentis pedals her bike to the garden each season to sit and think about Mike.
“The garden provides just what a parent needs. It’s a physical location, it’s beautifully done, it’s outside, it’s personal and private. People are respectful when they see you there. I feel very lucky that it’s there.”
Metzger said the garden helps each person differently.
“Kelly’s son Mike was 18 years and was heading off to college,” Metzger said. “I don’t align my grief with hers, but we are in that same club. Everyone’s loss is different.”
But what is the same is that the loss of a child irreversibly changes every parent.
“You become a different person,” Metzger said. “I didn’t want to be different, but I knew I was. You come to peace with it and realize it is OK and you help others. The garden is a sanctuary of healing. “
Each May, a memorial ceremony is held. The name of each child who died that year is read aloud.
“My child was stillborn,” Metzger said. “No one ever got a chance to meet him. At the ceremony, parents get to tell their child’s story. My fear is that no one will say his name out loud again. It is only an hour, but you breathe a sigh of therapeutic release.”
Metzger said her friends have been very supportive, but said some people make the mistake of thinking the parents don’t want to talk about their loss.
“What I tell people is the worst thing is not to say anything for fear of saying the wrong thing,” she said. “They are afraid they will make that person cry or feel uncomfortable. Parents want people to say their child’s name out loud.”
Feldman said the garden bring her peace. “It makes me happy,” she said. “It makes me proud of what we accomplished. Going through something so huge and so heartbreaking, it’s good to know that you’re not alone in your loss. So many people come up to us and are so thankful and kind. Together, we can help each other get through it and live with it.”
And like their grief, the garden is an ongoing effort.
“It takes a monetary and mental effort. I like that it’s never-ending. The memories of our children live forever. It’s nice that the garden is ongoing, too,” Feldman said.
Volunteers recently completely overhauled the garden. Names on the original bricks had faded, so all of the bricks were replaced and now are the same color as the fountain.
The group was very proud that the newly restored garden was chosen to be a part of the annual All Saints Garden Tour. “Nearly 500 people came through the garden and most of them didn’t even know it was there,” Metzger said. “The misconception is that it’s a baby garden. It’s a special place to go to remember children from infants to young adults.”
The garden’s volunteers hope the peaceful place gives parents some solace.
“Time doesn’t heal, but time helps,” Metzger said.
For more information about local groups, contact Tears Foundation. A pregnancy and infant loss support group meets from 6 to 7:30 p.m. on the second and fourth Wednesdays of each month at Hospice Care of the Lowcountry, 7 Plantation Park Drive, Bluffton.