Lake County Children’s Memorial Garden

A mother channels her grief into goodwill by giving other bereaved parents a sacred place of respite and emotional healing.

Admittedly, the holiday season isn’t easy for my family and me. At least, it hasn’t been for the past five years. On Thanksgiving weekend 2011, we suddenly and tragically lost our sweet, dear Nicholas—my second-born son, a brother to four surviving siblings. He was 14 years old. No one was expecting that an afternoon of routine Jet Ski fun on a nearby lake would end in a deadly collision. But it happened. And so here we are, on the fifth anniversary of his passing, celebrating another Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year without him. It’s not easy, no. But what’s important is that we are healing, slowly but surely.

One of the first things I did following Nicholas’s death was go to a public garden. There, I somehow felt a sense of comfort, calm, and inner peace. The more time I spent there, and the more I was “one” with nature, the more these feelings of tranquility and healing came over me. It was very therapeutic. I started doing some research and learned that, in fact, there’s some science to all of this—horticultural therapy is an actual, proven strategy for dealing with bereavement. And that’s when I became inspired to help others dealing with the loss of a child.

The garden will anticipate and respond to the needs of the bereaved (parents), reminding them that life goes on even without their child—and that life can still be beautiful.

I came up with the idea of a local children’s memorial garden so that parents, siblings, family, friends, classmates, and anyone grieving the untimely death of a child could have a special place of their own to heal. Survivors need to mourn, of course—but they also need to be able to remember and celebrate these children’s lives. Because when a child dies, that child hasn’t necessarily had enough time on this earth to achieve what an adult can over decades. So there’s no “record” of who the child was or what she or he was able to accomplish. There’s no real legacy to honor. I wanted to change that.

The Lake County Children’s Memorial Garden, once completed, will take parents and other visitors on a cathartic, metaphorical journey through the grieving process. They will begin in private, densely vegetated alcoves designed for quiet meditation and contemplation—safe places to let emotions run freely. Next, they will advance to a pedestrian walkway, still sheltered by nature and lined with lush plants, but gradually opening up to allow for greater connectivity to the surrounding area. Finally, visitors will arrive at a tranquil healing garden and memorial terrace that opens up along the edge of a vast lake—the ideal location for memorial services, vigils, and therapeutic group gatherings. For bereaved children, in particular, who have unique emotional needs and process grief differently than adults, the park will also provide hands-on healing activities, like tile-making (the tiles will then be hung on a memorial wall), musical instruments, and an outdoor labyrinth.

I am so thankful for the brilliant and compassionate team at Perkins+Will who worked with us pro bono on this special project. They did it not because they had to, but because they believed in the project’s mission and purpose. And they really went above and beyond. Perkins+Will spent over a year consulting with bereavement counselors, child behavioral therapists, and experts in the field of horticultural therapy to design an authentic place of reflection, remembrance, and emotional healing. The team listened intently and did comprehensive research; that’s what’s going to make this place so special. The garden will anticipate and respond to the needs of the bereaved, reminding them that life goes on even without their child—and that life can still be beautiful.

To honor and celebrate Nicholas, and to continue on our path toward healing, our family plans to lay a commemorative paver in Lake County Children’s Memorial Garden when it’s complete. I look forward to the day we can finally break ground and make this one-of-a-kind design a reality.
—Jennifer Dempsey

A rendering of the proposed Memorial Garden's boardwalk.

Lake County Children’s Memorial Garden


Tavares, Florida


To support grieving families during their journey to emotional healing and inspiring a connection to the world around and beyond them.


Fundraising Stage


Jennifer Dempsey, Coordinator