After my father died, my stepmother longed for a quiet place outdoors to think about my dad. Cheryl’s ideal spot ended up being a secludedBuild a Refuge Wrought Iron Bench_blog spot right in her backyard. She cleared out a few weeds, bought an iron bench at a garage sale, and that was about it. A refuge was born. You can read more about this idea and many others in Passed and Present: Keeping Memories of Loved Ones Alive

My favorite part of Cheryl’s retreat is the path she made to get there. She gathered a large number of medium-sized stones and carefully positioned them one after the other until a line of rocks stretched from the side of the house to the bench. 

And then, over the course of several visits, she asked my children and my brother’s children to help her paint each stone with a different stanza from We Remember Them, a poem by Rabbis Sylvan Kamens and Jack Riemer.  Here’s how the poem begins, adapted below:

At the rising sun aWe Remember Them - At the Rising of the Sun_cropnd at its going down

We remember them.

At the blowing of the wind and in the chill of winter

We remember them.

At the opening of the buds and in the rebirth of spring

We remember them.

At the shining of the sun and in the warmth of summer

We remember them.

At the rustling of the leaves and in the beauty of the autumnWe Remember Them - Poem on Stones_blog

We remember them.

At the beginning of the year and at its ends

We remember them.

As long as we live, they too will live;

for they are now a part of us,

as we remember them.

We Remember Them - They Too Will Live_crop

Building an outdoor refuge doesn’t require a lot of effort or space. You can use a chair instead of a bench or simply spread a blanket on the ground. There’s no obligation to mark a trail. The goal is simply giving yourself the time and a location to be alone with your thoughts.

And for that reason, it’s essential to recognize that a sanctuary doesn’t even have to exist outdoors—you can assign refuge status to any spot you dedicate for reflection, even your sofa—as long as it offers you a quiet place to remember.