When approaching the front doors at Sherbourne Health, just to the left of the sliding glass doors – visitors are greeted by the recently installed Memorial Garden. Created by workers at the Sherbourne Health site of the Toronto Community Hep C Program (TCHCP), the Memorial Garden offers a place to honour Sherbourne Health service users who have died and builds a space to heal and grieve.
The garden came together at the crux of overlapping crises hitting our communities. In 2020, there were a record high number of opioid overdose deaths in Toronto – a total of 521 fatalities. For 2021, this public health emergency shows no signs of slowing down.
“The overdose crisis on top of the pandemic and an ongoing housing crisis resulted in a devastating increase in the number of deaths among people we worked with,” says Amanda Leo, Hep C Community Coordinator and one of the people who spearheaded this project. “It was and continues to be really hard for those who work at Sherbourne Health, and the broader community, to deal with our grief, in part because the pandemic has made it more difficult to come together to mourn.”
Finding a way to reflect on these losses became increasingly important to the team at Sherbourne. As a community space for people’s grief and healing, the Memorial Garden offers an accessible opportunity for reflection. Because it is outdoors, people can interact how they want – they can place a stone, they can smell the flowers, they can volunteer with the maintenance of the garden or any other way that is meaningful to them.
Even as fall has arrived, the garden still blooms with lush plants and flowers, as well as stones decorated with names of people we have lost and miss dearly. The flowers and herbs that make up the garden are associated with aiding feelings of grief and loss. Tave Cole, Hep C Outreach Worker at the Sherbourne site of the TCHCP, helped to lead the selection of plants for the garden. She shares that “bleeding hearts, violets, and lavender were planted for their association with heartache and grief support in herbal medicine. Later in the summer, we added nepeta, Russian sage, and anise hyssop – all beautiful aromatic plants which are calming to the nervous system. Everything in the garden has purple blooms – the colour associated with overdose awareness.”
For the future of the garden, Amanda says “Our hope is that this space continues to be accessible for people’s grief and healing. It’s just a really nice thing we have to honour folks and recognize that the people we’ve lost were important to us.”