Sometimes plants die like people in our lives. Your grief journey is similar to gardening. Planting in the spring and enjoying the cascade of beauty in the summer light. Autumn is a time of getting plants ready for a winter’s sleep. Again, I gaze at the century-old oak tree with its trunk agile and resilient. Its roots are grounded and firm in order to withstand howling winds, bitter cold, blowing snow, whipping rains, and sometimes drought. Like the tree, we can weather the storms of life, if we believe. Remember the roots of the tree are strong and solid. Let’s make this our life story. When toiling in the garden, you have to get down and dirty. The same is true for learning to live with deep loss. Some days you may experience every emotion in one minute. Other days you may not want to get out of bed. You may feel suspended like the hostas or tulips in winter. Feelings of love and joy may fill up your vessel when you watch your grandchild play in a field of grass. Indecisiveness may be your friend, or confidence may only visit for a few minutes. Playing in Mother Earth is grounding, de-stressing and life-giving. As you nurture yourself playing in the garden, you will open a place of joy within you and see the gifts of growth and beauty in both you and the earth. The twenty-five-year-old maple stands tall and proud in my previous home’s backyard. I mourned when I had to leave this tree in the hands of strangers. This tree was my source of comfort for many years after my son Steven’s death. Steven died of suicide at age twenty-three on August 25,1992. Family and friends united to not only mourn, but to celebrate his twenty fourth birthday on September 28,1992. A spark of healing began in the planting of the tall, skinny maple on that day. We shared memories, broke bread, and I watched his friends plant this symbolic tree. This tree stands tall and proud. It shares its love in the vibrant green in spring and summer, and in radiant reds of autumn. It was in the experience of digging the hole and planting this new life that gave us a sliver of hope for what was to be. I weep in autumn when the robust red leaves fall to the ground to die. Sadness and longing seep into my soul when I witness the bare, lonely maple in winter. In springtime, I see new life and new growth on the tree and I realize it will take many seasons to come to terms with my loss. But, this maple learned to be resilient despite the heat, cold, wind and rain. like the maple, I can see resilience shining forth within me.
As I prune and cut off the dead branches of summer foliage that so eloquently stood straight and tall in summer’s eye, I contemplate my feelings of the day. I am sad and filled with a steadfast longing for what was but was not to be — my life forever changed.
Through planting shrubs and flowers in spring, I embrace these feelings and start letting go of hurt: a cathartic experience, though sometimes futile. I see the growth in the daffodils and tulips as they sprout through the hardened soil at the first glimpse of spring. Likened to the hardiness in grievers, we need to pull out the weeds, fertilize, water and nurture with adequate sleep, good nutrition and exercise to heal. New growth will spring forth if you believe.
As I watch the withered, darkened leaves fall, I see and feel the grief that touches us in the changing seasons. I am listening to the leaves whisper as they catch their breath and fall to the ground for the last time, saying goodbye to family, friends and companions.
If the century-old oak could tell a story, it would be filled with wisdom, love, compassion and song. It would talk about the shade it provided for the laughing children and the aging grandpa; how it peered at mother robin feeding her young. The tall branches and limbs appear to reach the sky, to catch a falling star. Its outstretched branches provide a safe haven to the scurrying squirrel escaping the energetic Labrador retriever. All trees are unique in colour, shape and beauty, just like us humans dealing with loss — individual and unique to each of us.
Sometimes the wind takes my breath away and throws thousands of maple leaves in a swirling turmoil before they finally reach the earth, finding calm and peace. The threatening and intimidating winter will surely follow Autumn. Embrace this wonderful season and wrap yourself in the blanket of brilliant reds and oranges as the trees change colour. Winter will cast its white blanket soon enough. Live now and not in the future.