You might not immediately associate a child with loving school. Instead, you might think of the daily fights to get dressed and there on time. There were of course totally those fights of getting up and dressed for Charlie. However, the difference was as soon as he crossed the threshold of St. Stephen United Methodist Church Preschool, Charlie entered one of the places he was most content.
Charlie was so loved there and still continues to be loved by the families, teachers and children that attend St. Stephen. Our preschool director, Cari, recently reflected on Charlie’s spirit, saying “He was a bright light, a ball of sunshine, funny and kind!” Charlie was so loved there and still continues to be loved by the families, teachers and children that attend St. Stephen.
After Charlie passed away, we were so humbled by the support of our preschool family, support that has been continued throughout our journey. Our preschool family has been a place of warm embraces, laughter, and tears. We feel so at home there, not only because of the people but also because of what they created, grew and continue to tend, through Charlie’s Garden. When Charlie died, we were immediately approached by the preschool and asked if we would be willing to allow the community to build something as a remembrance to our precious boy. Ultimately Charlie’s Garden sprung to life with the help of preschool parents, Charlie’s classmates and the staff at St. Stephen. We knew that was the perfect place not only for Charlie’s friends and family to remember him but for future generations at the school to see firsthand the light and love he brought into this world.
Charlie’s Garden is filled with beautiful flowers that I’m certain he would have loved to run through, look at and sniff, but it’s also filled with the most kind, thoughtful gifts from kids of all ages. Favorite toys of his like legos and cars make frequent appearances, as well as Kindness Rocks.
These hand-painted rocks, are a craft we have each year at Charlie’s Carnival through Rachel’s Kindness Matters Movement. To see hundreds of kids working so hard on these to brighten someone’s day when they happen to pass by them is wonderful. And when we find after the Carnival, a few children choose to take their rocks and place them in Charlie’s Garden, it’s extra special. That is perhaps the best part about the garden. This memorial for Charlie is not a sad place for us, it’s full of life and joy. New toys join old ones and move to different areas as kids play; the flowers bloom and change colors; the air is punctuated with birds tweeting and kids’ laughter. It’s become a living, breathing place where his spirit continues on even though his life on earth has stopped.
And not only does it mean the world to our family, but to others who knew our funny, happy little boy as Cari says when she explains how important the Charlie’s Garden is to the preschool. “The garden is such a good way to honor Charlie’s memory because it is colorful, joyful, playful and bright, which is what we think of when we remember him,” Cari says.
Kids and teachers are still using the garden and remembering Charlie in their own way there as well. Throughout the year there are many butterfly and ladybug releases throughout the year and in the Spring, class stop by to look at flowers.
I think Cari puts it incredibly well when she talks about Charlie’s life and tragic death:
“As heartbreaking as it feels when I think about the loss, it is worth the tears. Not having the heartbreak would mean I was not part of his life, and would not have had the privilege of loving him. I would not trade a tear to escape the pain, because doing that would mean I missed out on the joy of knowing him, and as painful as it is, the joy of loving him is far greater than the pain.”
Charlie’s Garden is so incredibly special to us, and we are so thankful we have it at St. Stephen. Even though Charlie’s death is the most difficult, heartbreaking thing we have ever experienced, this garden brings us so much joy. I love visiting the garden, seeing what has changed, grown, moved and been added. Its unexpected gifts like finding note or kindness rocks that make Charlie’s Garden a living breathing place. Finding new treasures is like getting new memories of Charlie. It’s heartwarming and means everything to us in those moments.