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Washington Voices

Garden a memorial to beloved son

Thu., Oct. 14, 2010

Pam and Keith Smith enjoy a warm fall sun in their son Theo’s memorial garden.  (PAT MUNTS / The Spokesman-Review)
Pam and Keith Smith enjoy a warm fall sun in their son Theo’s memorial garden. (PAT MUNTS / The Spokesman-Review)

Little Theo loved life. He loved exploring his world and was just discovering the broader world when he died on his first birthday in early May this year. He left behind his stunned and grieving parents, Keith and Pam Smith, of Deer Park.

Theo died of pulmonary hypertension; a condition where the blood vessels around the lungs don’t properly expand when a baby is born to carry oxygen from the lungs. When Theo was born, he had no indications of the condition.

As his first birthday approached however Theo began having problems and three days before his birthday was rushed to the hospital. It was then that the Smiths learned that their little boy was suffering from an incurable condition they had never heard of and that he could not survive.

They went home to their house west of Deer Park to try to absorb what had just happened.

The next morning Pam stepped outside to get a breath of the spring air. She remembers thinking that the front yard looked bare and how Theo had just begun to explore spring. Then the idea hit her; an idea so powerful it brought a little joy into the sadness. She dashed back into the house telling Keith, “A garden! What we need to build is a garden for Theo.”

As their family, friends and community learned of Theo’s passing, people brought notes, flowers, food and rallied around the Smiths. With the idea of the garden now in place, Pam and Keith could give everyone something to focus on in a lasting way. In lieu of flowers that would last a few fleeting days, they suggested people bring plants for Theo’s Garden to make a lasting memorial to a little boy who was just discovering dirt and butterflies.

Soon their sidewalk was lined with pots of perennials, annuals, roses, hostas and a dozen other plants. Neighbors, friends and work colleagues dug favorite plants from their own gardens, shopped the nurseries for spring treasures or when they couldn’t decide or wanted the Smiths to choose, gave gift certificates to local nurseries.

In the meantime, the Smiths and helpful friends began reclaiming the scraggly edge of their front yard. Existing shrubs and trees were cleaned up and pruned. A pond from a previous owner’s landscaping efforts was dug out. The rocks were used in the new landscaping and the old pond pump now powered a small water feature that draws birds for a drink and a bath. Next came truckloads of compost and dirt to make planting mounds. The Smiths then began tucking the gifts of the community into the garden. The plants took off.

There is peace and magic in Theo’s garden now. The garden is full of color, buzzing insects, the fragrance of late summer flowers and the warmth of the early fall sun. It is alive with just enough magic to spark the child in all of us. You are much loved and missed little Theo.

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