Memory garden honors friends, family members

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SUFFIELD TOWNSHIP, Ohio — Memories flourish among the hostas and coral bells in Kathy Roby's garden.

This summer, Roby turned a fenced plot near her house into a memory garden to honor friends and family members — mostly people who have died, but also people who have served in the military. But there's nothing morbid about the spot. It's a serene space, a place for pleasant recollections and quiet reflection.

Roby decided to start the garden after losing her parents, her in-laws and a friend, all of whom had lived with and been cared for in their final days by her and her husband, Mark Pollock. In all, six people have occupied the couple's two in-law suites since 1997 — at one point, four people at once, Roby said.

The sixth, a friend of her mother's, recently moved to an assisted living facility after having lived with Roby and Pollock for 13 years.

"Kathy finally got done after 16 years of taking care of these people, so I think she wanted a memorial garden," her husband said.

Roby's work as a funeral director with Hopkins Lawver Funeral Home played into the plan. She is comfortable with death and understands the importance of celebrating the lives of people who have passed on.

And it helped that she had the perfect spot for the garden, a former vegetable patch that had struggled because of too much shade.

A paver walkway divides the memory garden into four sections, each with a theme. At the center is an angel statue and a weeping cherry tree, chosen because of its name.

One section of the garden is devoted to her family, one to her husband's family and one to veterans. The fourth is an undedicated space that Roby has filled with plants and garden art that support the theme of remembering.

All through the garden are artifacts that remind Roby and Pollock of their loved ones. The green post that holds a birdhouse came from the porch of Pollock's great-grandfather's house in the Belmont County community of Neffs, Ohio. The barnstone at its base was from his grandfather's farm in St. Clairsville, Ohio. A bell that was a long-ago gift from Roby's mother is mounted on a yoke and pole Pollock had made for it, which the couple erected near rocks from her great-grandparents' farm in LeRoy, W.Va.

Roby even had signs made to hang from the fence in both sections, listing the family members who are memorialized there.

The section of fence that edges the veterans' section is hung with plaques honoring family members and friends who have served in the military — some still living, others deceased. An American flag and a flag bearing symbols of the military branches flutter over the garden, which has as its focal point a small bench displaying a pair of vintage Army helmets.

Scattered throughout the memory garden are art pieces that speak to the cycle of life — a birdbath to attract feathered visitors, a stone carved with Ecclesiastes 3 ("To everything there is a season …"), a likeness of Roby and Pollock's aging shih tzu, Conway. There are also antiques and mementos the couple has gathered, such as the corn grinder from Pollock's family, the small iron pot that once stood on Roby's grandmother's porch and the Hopkins Lawver advertising sign that once hung at Paradise Lake Country Club and now honors the late Robert Lawver, the man under whom Roby served her apprenticeship.

It's appropriate that Roby and Pollock have filled the garden with heirlooms. They share a deep respect for their families' history, and they've decorated their house with family antiques and memorabilia — among them, Pollock's old bike, which hangs from the rafters of their living room ceiling, and a bench that incorporates the ends of a pew from the church where his parents were married.

The garden was inspired by one the couple saw that was decorated with old grave markers. Roby wanted to do something similar but settled on statuary when she couldn't find headstones.

It's a work in progress, she said.

"We're still looking for relics from people in our family," she said. "We'll add things as we find them."

In the meantime, the garden serves as a reminder of the people Roby and Pollock have loved and a place where they can come to think about them.

"I think part of them is here," she said.