When Karen Gilkyson lost her 17-day-old daughter, Stella, the pain was intolerable. She had no idea how to get past it. Months later, after connecting with other grieving parents, she partnered with a mom who had experienced similar trauma. Together they founded Tiny Hands of Hope, in Grande Prairie, to support families who have lost a child during pregnancy or up to the age of two.
It was through the group that Gilkyson befriended Elizabeth Naeth, who had just lost her eight-year-old daughter, Emily. Then one day, she called Naeth. “I said, ‘What if we create a garden for all the families of Tiny Hands and The Compassionate Friends—and for everyone that’s been impacted by a loss of a child to give them a place to reflect, honour and remember that child?’”
After years of planning, which started in 2016, the Blossoming Garden of Hope opened to the public in October 2022, at Maskwôtêh Park. A collaborative effort of Tiny Hands, the local chapter of The Compassionate Friends and the City of Grande Prairie, the garden provides a positive space for healing and hope.
“It was very important to be next to a playground,” Gilkyson says of the garden. “And we wanted interactive sculptures that encourage children to play.” There are three sculptures on-site, all metal. A family of playfully costumed geese perhaps heading to the pond. Two teddy bears holding a heart, hollow in the middle to represent the feeling of emptiness after losing a child. The Hole in the Sky, created by local artist Grant Berg, paying tribute to the thousands of Indigenous children lost to residential schools.
There’s a gazebo where families can gather. One hundred eighty trees that flower in spring serve as a reminder that life is beautiful but can be fleeting. Eight benches provide a venue for contemplation, bearing calming affirmations like “Love lives here.”
Gilkyson regularly visits the park with her husband, twelve-year-old son and eight-year-old daughter and, sometimes, on her own or with her dog. “You can’t help but feel peace and hope when you’re here,” she says.
The Blossoming Garden of Hope offers a wonderful alternative to traditional sombre places for grieving—a loving place where families can heal, surrounded by nature and children at play. Gilkyson is hoping other communities will follow suit.
The Blossoming Garden of Hope was nominated by an AMA member for The Good Place feature. Is there an organization in your community that people need to know about? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to hear about it!