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Garden of the sleeping angels
Nancy Sawyer knew an intensity of both joy and sorrow in her work with high-risk pregnancies over her 42-year career as a nurse. Most of her career was in obstetrics, and because of the nature of her work, "the end result was not always what we hoped for. There was a fair amount of infant loss," Sawyer said.
She recalled carrying a baby who had died at birth to the morgue in the days when the parents might never see their baby. She remembered crying and knowing that something about that was not right. "We didn't talk about what that meant to a woman," she reflected.
In July 2012, Sawyer retired from bedside nursing (although she continues to support the loss effort at the Mother Baby Center in Minneapolis). Still, she knew she had more work to do. At almost 70, she realized she had a gift of "helping families say hello and goodbye to their babies." She discerned that the "more work to do" was to transform part of her property in Orono into a remembrance garden, a place where those who have lost a child can go "to remember, reflect, grieve and begin healing." It's also a place for caregivers to renew.
"It serves as a living reminder that although we can no longer hold or touch our loved ones, we can remember them always," Sawyer said.
As she planted, tended, weeded and watered during the 2013 growing season, she felt peaceful and calm compared with the feeling of taking care of the other gardens on the property - which could be frustrating and overwhelming. Creating the remembrance garden was a labor of love.
Nina Guertin, who lost three infants to death, has become a collaborator with Sawyer, creating one-of-a-kind ceramic angels with infants' names and birth dates inscribed on them to hang in the garden.
Guertin reflects on her own hopes for the garden - and for mothers.
"The hurt needs a place to be released. That is what the garden will do," Guertin said. "I think it will take a lot of courage to go there and be vulnerable and grieve, but that is what the place is about. It is about honoring those babies, but also our own grief."
"It's about the acceptance of a loss, and there is healing in that," she added.
Sawyer recently obtained tax-exempt status as a nonprofit organization. So far, all of the expenses have come from her own pocket and from personal fundraisers for the garden, such as selling extra hosta plants from her yard.
Her vision for the space includes "getting people talking about their babies, about their dreams."
Memorial plants can be donated for the garden or funds can be donated via a PayPal link on the garden website.
Dedication and blessing of the garden
June 22, 2014, 1 p.m.
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