Hansen Desert Hills Memorial Park Engages The Senses To Help Visitors Work Through Their Grief

A Memorial Garden in Phoenix, Arizona is helping loved ones process their grief through sound thanks to a new addition to their sensory-rich garden.

Hansen Desert Hills Memorial Park has recently added a bespoke 'Bell Lyre' outdoor musical instrument to an interactive pathway within the healing garden, which encourages visitors and families in grief to take a journey through their senses, focusing on one sense at a time. The Bell Lyre is just one 'station' along the route aimed to prompt visitors to pause, take time to reflect, and remember their loved ones in unique ways.

Crystal Howard of Hansen Mortuaries and Memorial Garden comments “I came across Percussion Play online as I was searching for something like a wind chime to incorporate into our section for hearing named 'Harmony'. I was drawn to the Bell Lyre as I loved the look of it and hadn’t seen anything like it anywhere before. It was almost exactly what we wanted and needed - an interactive instrument which was soothing too. The Bell Lyre is typically unpitched, however, we requested for it to be tuned to a pentatonic G major scale to make the idea of harmony easily achieved by anyone in our cemetery. Once we were assured that there would be no wrong notes played by anyone who played it, we were sold!”

The cemetery is 23 years old, which compared to many cemeteries is relatively new, the garden, which is also new this year, already attracts a lot of families including children who are grieving. The Bell Lyre is the favorite station for children to make music and enjoy the time remembering the person they have lost. It also helps children build memories that they don’t have with that person, keeping them in the present.

The garden encourages people to close their eyes, take a deep breath, and use a silent moment to focus on the sound of the birds, the wind rustling through the leaves, and the sound of their own breathing. Families then use a mallet to gently ring the bells on the Bell Lyre and let the notes fall gently on their ears. They are then asked to reflect on any unique sounds that their loved one made. Did they whistle, sing, snore, or even crack their knuckles? Sometimes the sound of a sewing machine or a boiling tea kettle brings back memories of those missed. Finally, people are asked to close their eyes once more, ring the bell and speak their loved one’s name. Many people find comfort in hearing their loved one’s name spoken out loud. Speaking their name acknowledges that they are remembered.

Crystal Howard continues; “There’s no doubt that our Sound Station is probably one of the favorite stations. I’ve walked through it with visitors and funeral professionals and all become emotional when they ring the bell and say their loved one's name. It’s an instant reaction and emotion which is attached to saying that person’s name.”

Other ‘stations’ in the garden include;

  • A Reflection Garden offers a reflection pool to develop the ability to stay connected to the important people and relationships that have passed away. Just as people look in a mirror, they can look into the pool and see the characteristics of a loved one reflected back to them.

  • The Grove. Very often emotions, and memories can have a taste and smell associated with them. As people explore the Grove in the healing garden, they will find a blood-orange tree. The fruit of the blood orange tree may seem extremely sweet or somewhat tart depending on the taster. Visitors can pick one to taste or smell the beautiful, sweet fragrance.

  • The Celebration Garden has a pedestal containing black stones. These stones are known as Apache Tears or grief stones. Families are encouraged to run their hands over the stones and feel the unique shape and texture of each stone. Just as each stone feels individually different, grieving is a highly individual experience.

Jody Ashfield, Co-Founder, and CEO of Percussion Play said “Sound has long been used to help heal, so seeing memorial gardens such as Hansen Mortuaries and Memorial Garden embrace music, is fantastic to see. Our instruments engage people spanning all ages and they’re universally accessible, anyone can play them, making these instruments the perfect addition to Memorial Gardens.”

The 'bells' of the bespoke Bell Lyre were made from aluminum rather than stainless steel and powder coated in a muted grey color at the customer's request.