MAPLE GROVE, Minn. (KMSP) - There is a place in Maple Grove where anyone who has lost a family member or friend can go to remember them.
It is not a cemetery, but rather a garden surrounding a large sculpture of an angel, called the “Angel of Hope.”
Now, the volunteers who care for the angel and surrounding park are unveiling an expansion, offering even more comfort to the loved ones left behind.
“It's a place to celebrate their loved one's life, and sometimes we find it hard to come out of that painful grief to actually celebrate their lives,” said Sue Drag, President of Friends of the Angel, the non-profit supporting the Maple Grove Angel of Hope.
Installed in 2001, the Angel of Hope in the Maple Grove Arboretum is one of more than 120 just like it around the world. Bricks surround the base of the statue are dedicated to loved ones who have died.
“I come here and I look at all the bricks, and I know I'm not alone,” Drag said.
The Angel statue is based on a novel called The Christmas Box by Richard Paul Evans, where a widow mourns the loss of her child.
However, its meaning has evolved, and now the bricks represent any loved ones who have passed away.
“A lot of people here have a child who has passed away, but that is not a requirement,” said Friends of the Angel Vice President, Sarah Kerbeshian. “Everybody is a child of somebody and so many people have bricks of different ages here.”
As the bricks filled up with names and memories, Friends of the Angel realized the need to expand.
With the City of Maple Grove, they proposed plan to renovate and renew. The city agreed.
“It was definitely needed,” Kristine Johnson said. “It's bittersweet that we even needed it, because we look at all those bricks and each one represents a life that was affected by the same thing we were affected by.”
Connie and Kristine Johnson lost their son and brother in a car accident in 2004. He was 18 years old.
“It's a way to remember our son Danny and the keyword is ‘remember,’” Connie said.
“I think we also wanted a more uplifting way to honor his life, as opposed to visiting him where he is at the cemetery,” Kristine said.
Everything in the space except for the angel statue has been completely reimagined. There are new benches, lighting, arbors, and most importantly, more bricks.
While there were only 40 spots left for bricks before the expansion, they can now fit 1,500 more.
“The city, park and rec, knew that we were running out of space and so it was kind of an immediate need, and they stepped up to the plate,” Connie said.
"We were really honored that the city decided to invest in renovating this garden,” Kristine said. “Seeing it now and how beautiful it really turned out, it makes us feel really good.”
Construction is mostly complete with the exception of a new water feature going in behind the angel.
“As I look at this round circle of the angel park, I feel it's like a completion of the circle of life and that's just really special,” Drag said.
“We're a group that nobody wants to join, but if you are, we're here for you. We're here for you,” Connie said.
"When I'm here, I just think about, it's been 14 years since the accident and I kind of like to daydream about what could have been and where he would be and if he would have had a family, and our relationship, and how that would have developed," Kristine said. "It makes me feel good just to imagine how happy his life would have been, how things would have been different."
The Friends of the Angel have pledged to pay the city back for a portion of the expansion costs. They are raising money through donations and sponsorships and will officially rededicate the park on Saturday, May 5 at their annual “Walk to Remember.”
“Being able to find a place of solace is so important in times of grief, and to think that this location can expand and help others in the future, is something that we are so thankful that we can be partners on,” Kerbeshian said.