Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Mourning Barn

You could call Stanwood a small town. According to the census our population is just 6,231.  Most small towns like traditions -- you know, parades and car shows and soap box derbies and decorating the water tower for holidays. These things bring people together and Stanwood has them all.

We have another tradition too. It's not planned by the city or a volunteer committee. But it affects the whole community. You might call it the Mourning Barn.

It stands just outside of town on Marine Drive. It hasn't sheltered animals for years, yet the fields all around it are farmed and the nearby apple and plum trees, their trunks wrapped in mesh to keep critters away, bear lovely fruit.

Some time in the last twenty or thirty years it became a place for high school seniors to paint their names and their graduation year. I'm told that the farmer didn't take kindly to this tradition at first, but as time passed the barn has become something of a community reader board, and the farmer now offers no resistance.

Life is real in Stanwood, and not everyone makes it to graduation. Sometimes kids die. Just in the last few years we've lost teens to sickness, to accidents, and to violence.

When that happens, their friends gather at the barn with paint and a plan. They prop up their ladders and turn the north wall of the barn into a memorial for their friend. It gives them a way to deal with their grief, to support one another, and to keep their friend's memory alive.

We've watched the barn go through many changes in our years living in Stanwood. I've cried to see the name of another young person whose life was just too short.

Earlier this year a 7-year-old girl was accidentally shot by her younger brother. She was rushed to the hospital, but she did not survive. The barn became a huge yellow canvas with her name, Jenna, written across the wall in lavender.

And now the barn has a new look. A young mom in Stanwood, Jen Bell-Burgess, was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of cancer. After a valiant 18-month struggle, she passed away on July 26.

I drove by the barn last Wednesday afternoon, the day of Jen's service, and I saw a group of kids gathered to paint the barn. It was Jen's 15-year-old daughter, Hayley, and her friends, pouring themselves into a healing project.

No longer just for teens, the Mourning Barn is now opening its doors to the entire community, reminding us of those among us that we have loved and lost. Who ever would have dreamed that a barn could offer such comfort?

Hayley (right) with friend

1 comment:

Rebekah Baeder-Johnston said...

Absolutely beautifully and compassionately shared Ginger!!!!! Thank you so much for telling such a thoughtful story of THE MOURNING BARN and the message of Jenny's impact on each one of us and our community!!!! The article in the Stanwood Camano News was awesome too!!!!