Dedications can be full of the dizzy giddiness of a new adventure or fairly superficial or profound. My family left the dedication of the Jamison Stephens Memorial Garden – the new Growing Warriors veterans’ community garden in Berea – with sadness, heartache for this world – and hope for it, as well. It is one thing to dedicate in memoriam of a person who has lived a long, long life, perhaps having accomplished extraordinary things. It is quite another to dedicate a garden to 24-year old veteran, who was attending college to be able to counsel those coming back from war – like he did.
Monday evening we met – the veterans and their families and the Stephens’ family – at the new garden. Specialist Stephens’ mother is braver than I have any hope of being – and she expressed that the garden was a wonderful celebration of Jamison’s hopes. He had wanted to counsel returning veterans – and in Growing Warriors’ gardens veterans could receive the therapy of working out doors, growing and creating beautiful things, nutrition, and providing for their families. And although I have always believed this, the essence of our mission, was good and valid, her statement, in her circumstance, reaffirmed and created a new level of understanding. Mr. and Mrs. Stephens planted the first flowers in the memorial flower bed, and the rest of the family followed – choosing plants and digging the earth in the name of their departed kin. We ate a local meal of salad and bread, and then the veterans planted tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and beans.
Everyone has a different idea about what to do to mourn a death and celebrate a life. These ideas vary widely, by culture, by economic status, by individual. My mom, practical midwesterner that she is, always told us, “No fuss. Throw me out behind the barn, but take the gold and silver from my teeth first.” (In reality, she has donated her body for research.) Planting a garden, creating a place for peace and healing, creating sustenance – this seems right. And though it is with grief, we were privileged to dedicate this garden to Specialist Jamison Stephens, U.S. Army.