There’s a remarkable young woman in our community who lost her dad while she was in middle school, then channeled her grief into a positive force for countless others who have lost loved ones.
Rachael Ristau’s father, Michael, died of liver cancer when Rachael was 12. Two years later, as a high school freshman, Rachael formed and led a grief support group for middle school students who had suffered the loss of a loved one.
Then she pursued the idea for something far more permanent and far-reaching — a memory garden.
With help from her classmates, volunteers in the community, local businesses and village officials, Rachael pulled it off. After two-plus years, tens of thousands of dollars in donations and a lot of sweat equity, the Fayetteville Memory Garden was unveiled in October 2011.
For the groundbreaking, Rachael — then a college freshman — told a local reporter she was ecstatic that the garden could “spread its contagious message in that whatever battle you are fighting, you are not alone.”
The Memory Garden is a beautiful, quiet place to reflect. Commemorative bricks, benches, flowers and trees fill the garden, which features a brick walkway in the shape of a ribbon.
Supporters buy bricks and have them inscribed. Dozens have been added in the past two years, as the garden becomes more well-known through word-of-mouth and social media.
Visiting the Memory Garden to reflect upon lost loved ones can be an emotional experience, certainly. But spend some quiet time there, read the heartfelt sentiments on so many bricks, and the sadness is often tempered by the comfort of knowing “you are not alone,” as Rachael said.