Jeremy John Zemke loved to fish.
The 16-year-old loved being outdoors and was particularly fascinated by eagles. Bears, too.
When the teen-ager drowned four years ago after suffering a seizure while swimming on a lake near Aitkin, it devastated his family, including his mother, Connie Peterson.
But Peterson has found a special way to remember her son.
Only a stone's throw from the new goldfish pond and waterfall at the Healing Gardens at Bethany Good Samaritan Village in Brainerd, where she works as manager of the health information department, is a meditative garden she and other family members created and dedicated to Jeremy's life.
Jeremy's garden includes a water fountain, a variety of flowers and turtle, bear and eagle sculptures. Two Amish rocking gliders were purchased by the family for Bethany residents and their visitors to enjoy. Peterson can often be found rocking on one of the gliders during her lunch break, sitting and talking to her late son.
"He was 16, and he just had a heart of gold," said Peterson, of her son. "It's very healing here. I can sit out here and think of him and cry. It's very hard for me to be without Jeremy. And it's nice to be here to heal."
It's a peaceful place. A healing place. A place where families can go to spend time with a loved one living at the nursing home. A sanctuary where residents can feel closer to nature. And a place where Bethany staff can go to unwind after a long day.
It's taken two years, but Bethany's Healing Gardens are complete. As complete as gardens could ever be. The facility hosted an open house Thursday afternoon.
Families are encouraged to bring special flowers and plants from home to plant there so residents can feel at home. There is even a section of the 100-foot-by-80-foot garden where corn, cabbage and other vegetable plants are planted. Residents who used to farm can feel at home watching their crops grow. A meandering cement path encircles the new garden, which was built by donations and volunteers. Volunteers primarily care for the Healing Gardens, which were created by brothers Daniel and Thomas Dix of Baxter, owners of WoodSpirit Water Gardens. A separate garden was created for dementia and Alzheimer's residents.
"Now visiting with Grandma isn't boring or uncomfortable," said Daniel Dix. "I remember as a kid not wanting to see Grandpa in the nursing home. What was there to do? Sit on the bed? Out here there is lots to see and do. We tried to make this interactive so you can touch and feel everything."
Sitting areas can be found throughout the garden and they were designed for privacy. The Dix brothers salvaged century-old hand-split wooden rail posts and an old wagon wheel that have been placed in the garden. They tried to capture the feeling of being Up North. A dry stream bed carries away the rain.
"I wish it were my backyard," said Sue Schmidt, who works in accounts payable at Bethany. "It's beautiful."
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