t's impossible to describe how devastated the schoolmates of Martha Shannen Reid were when she died in a car accident at the age of 12. Counselors were brought to the school to help the students cope, and after the initial shock, her friends organized a balloon release. On that day, everyone wrote notes to Martha Shannen or anyone else they held dear and attached them to white helium balloons. All together, they let the balloons go and watched them rise to the clear-blue sky, then disappear.
But they could not let go of their sadness.
"They were primary in my thoughts even just a couple of days after the wreck," said Kate Reid, Martha Shannen's mother. "I just cannot tell you how miserable they were. A lot of them have never even had a grandparent die."
As part of their grieving process, the Reid's supportive network of friends in Austin, Texas, began to talk about ways to memorialize Martha Shannen. Her father, Randal, who was injured in the crash, tried to process his grief by riding an adapted bike along Lady Bird Lake. As he rode, he saw benches with plaques honoring loved ones. He and Kate had already decided to buy a bench when they learned that members of the community were conceptualizing a memorial garden at West Ridge Middle School, where Martha Shannen had been a popular student. The school gave permission to dedicate a small space on the school grounds to Martha Shannen.
The garden project was organized by Jordan McCullough, whose efforts fulfilled the community-service and fund-raising requirements he needed to advance from Boy Scout to Eagle Scout.
Donating her time, landscape architect Sue Lambe designed a simple garden plot with drought-resistant plants. There's also a redbud tree, because Martha Shannen always remarked on their beauty. Ted's Trees in Austin donated the tree.
When it came to furnishings, the Reids turned to Debbie and Charles Finch of the Paul E. Allen Co. of Flower Mound, Texas. They are Texas representatives of site furnishings manufacturer DuMor Inc., based in Mifflintown, Pa.
Kate Reid had difficulty choosing the two matching benches that would be the garden's focal point. Her mind was still reeling with memories of things that would never happen again.
Reid recalled that Debbie Finch once spent upwards of an hour on the phone with her, zeroing in on the perfect benches. There were steel, recycled plastic and wooden ones; ornate and plain ones; and colors galore.
Though it surprised some folks who were expecting school colors or perhaps something more subdued, the Reids chose two sleek cast-iron benches in bright red, along with a black planter.
"I liked the look of them, and they are really comfortable," Kate Reid said.