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LIVING SYMBOLS OF LOVE AND HOPE ARE HELPING FRIENDS AND FAMILY HEAL

SHARE LIVING SYMBOLS OF LOVE AND HOPE ARE HELPING FRIENDS AND FAMILY HEAL

Next spring, there will be white blossoms on the pear tree planted in memory of Melissa Ann Yates.

The tree - and the vivid flowers planted around it - have replaced the graffiti that Melissa's friends had painted in the front yard of the West Jordan home where 16-year-old Melissa's body had landed after being thrown from a motorcycle in a terrible accident. The graffiti was her friends' way of letting Melissa know that she would be missed.Last Friday, Melissa's parents, Randy and Lori Yates, placed a plaque in their daughter's memory next to the slender pear tree. The plaque's engraved message is simple: We love you and miss you.

Melissa was riding on the back of a motorcycle driven by a friend when the bike collided suddenly with a car making a U-turn at an intersection near 5290 W. Banquet Drive. The intensity of the impact threw the two teens about 100 feet from their motorcycle.

Marsha Ray and her daughter, Erin, were working in the yard that Thursday evening, June 23, when they saw a sight they have since struggled to forget. They heard the startling crash of metal and glass, then looked up to to see Melissa's body as it was thrust from the wreckage onto their front yard.

Erin, 17, was a good friend of Melissa's. Frantically, she ran into the house and called 911. The accident victims were flown by helicopter to LDS Hospital. The drivers of the car and the motorcycle survived. Friends and family stayed around the clock at Melissa's bedside for nearly a week, holding her hand and talking with her, but she never came out of her coma. She died June 29.

"Melissa was the kind of girl that was really fun-loving and nice to be around," said Erin. "She had a lot of friends that really cared for her."

For weeks after Melissa's death, Erin and her mother were grimly reminded of the tragedy by the black graffiti painted on their driveway and the orange-painted police outline marking the place where Melissa's body fell.

"It all seemed so negative," said Erin. "I wanted to remember and honor Melissa in a more positive way."

The Rays decided to suggest to Melissa's parents that a tree and flowers be planted in front of their home by those who wanted to honor Melissa's life.

The Yateses were touched with the suggestion to remember their only daughter's life with a living symbol of hope that could help family and friends heal from their sorrow.

The Rays provided the pear tree. The Yates brought flowers. And friends came with rakes and shovels ready to dig into the earth.

As they all worked together, they shared their happy memories of Melissa and their sense of loss. After a few hours of work, the pear tree stood tall in the midst of a rainbow of flowers.

"It helps to have a memory of Melissa in something that is alive, beautiful and growing," says Lori Yates. "Just like these flowers and the pear tree, Melissa was so beautiful. It helps to know her soul is still alive."

Instead of spraying graffiti to express their grief, Melissa's friends now stop by to water the tree and flowers.

They're planning what flowers to add to the flower bed next year. And, they're looking forward to smelling the white blossoms on the pear tree in the spring.