Today . . . would have been my mom’s 88th birthday. She died in 2016, shortly after turning 80. Today – July 11 – seems to be the most appropriate day for me to share my story about the way I’ve chosen to remember, to memorialize, my mom.

Like me, my mom loved to putter in her garden. In fact, I probably picked up my love of flowers and gardening from working alongside her in a little strip of dirt at the side of our house when I was a little girl. She planted old-fashioned flowers she loved . . . four-o’clocks, hollyhocks, snapdragons, marigolds, moss roses . . . and we watered them and pulled weeds together. At the end of the season, I helped her gather seeds so we could plant them again the next year. Over the years, my mom and I continued to garden together — and apart in our own gardens. We took many garden tours together and visited nurseries all over West Michigan. It was a wonderful bond for us.

When the Meijer Gardens opened in Grand Rapids in 1995, my mom and I used to take frequent “field trips” to visit together. About 10 years later, Meijer Gardens started working to develop a Japanese garden on the site. It was a major undertaking, and there was a lot of buzz in West Michigan – for years – as plans began to take shape. My mom was intrigued! She watched updates on the local news, and couldn’t wait to see it. When it finally opened in 2015, she and my dad were among the first visitors.

She adored the Japanese garden! I took her to visit many times in the brief time span between the gardens opening and her death in 2016. The garden is always a peaceful, healing space, and both my mom and I loved visiting in all seasons.

Now that my mom has died, I continue to visit the Meijer Japanese garden whenever I can. Every time I’m there, I actually feel my mom’s spirit, her presence, right there with me in the garden. Often, the sun will break through clouds when I’m there. I always feel at ease. Calm. Peaceful. I know my mom is . . . there . . . with me.

So I decided to do something to preserve her spirit – and her love of the garden. I contacted the Meijer Garden development office and inquired about sponsoring a bench in the Japanese garden. I thought this would be a lovely way to create a memorial for my mom — and to cement her to the Japanese garden in perpetuity.

It seemed like a small thing, an easy thing. But it was neither. First, it required a rather large donation. And, second, it required patience. Because there were no benches available for me to sponsor! I had to wait while the gardens received permission from the designer to add another bench. And then I had to wait while he decided where it could be. And what it could look like. It took . . . years.

It’s been worth the wait, though. The bench is in place now, in a beautiful spot overlooking the lake. (That’s the view from the bench there in the photo below.)


Erin and I went to visit the gardens/the bench together while she was in town earlier this summer. Although I’d seen photos, I hadn’t been there to see it in person yet. I didn’t anticipated the rush of emotions I felt when I saw that bench. Talk about feeling her presence! It was quite amazing to me, those emotions. That bench, that PLACE . . . was something I hadn’t realized I needed.

The bench is lovely. Its location is perfect. Now I have a “place” to BE with my mom. And other garden visitors will be able to feel her peaceful spirit, too.

She’d love it. She’d absolutely love it!

May you find peace and solace here.
In loving memory of my mom,
Yvonne Rothwell

Happy birthday, Mom.

(Here’s a brief and beautiful look at the Japanese garden at Meijer Gardens. It really does capture the spirit of the place.)

PS. Speaking of memorials . . . By the time you read this post, Tom and I will be traveling to Wyoming for Tom’s dad’s memorial service on Saturday. It will be a short trip for us. I’m planning to be back to posting on Tuesday. Have a good weekend.