The Tree of Grief

Imagine a tree. Any kind of tree you like. Oak, elm, evergreen, lemon, plumeria. That tree is your life.


It began when the seed was created by its parents, like you were. It began to sprout. It began to root. It made a small, tiny leaf, followed by another small, tiny leaf. It threw out one small tentative tendril of root, followed by another, and another. 


You began to grow, adding cells, becoming a human. You grew slowly, like the tree. Each new branch, each new leaf, each new root, each new layer of bark. Each new memory, each new milestone, each new layer of skin, each new and stronger, longer bone.


You look at the mature tree. The way its branches form a pattern. Its own individual pattern. It is unlike any other tree. It’s DNA is particular to itself. It may produce apples like its neighbor, but has it’s own distinct array of branches. It’s design is just different enough from any other to make it unique.


You grow up. You may resemble your brother or sister, your parents, even a twin, but you are unique. Your DNA has created a person unlike any other. And inside, your memories, your character, your constitution, your experience, is also like no other. Your particular design stands in the world, a testimony to your chemistry and miracle of being. It is your tree. Your tree of life.


The tree may have had plentiful and rich soil and the perfect amount of water and sunshine. It may be as healthy and perfectly formed as it can be. Or it may have had the unfortunate circumstance of poor soil or lack of water. It may have lived through drought, or flood, or the abuse of infestation from an insect. But it is still a tree.


You may have had the good fortune to be raised in a happy home, with plenty of food to eat and lots of love and good health. Or you may have suffered defect or disease, had a difficult childhood, an unhappy home, lived in poverty or suffered abuse without enough food or caring. But you are still a person.


One day you meet your mate. Your partner, who you choose to be with for life. Your unique design is now altered. You grow your branches in a slightly different direction now, reaching out towards your love, like a leaf turning towards the sun. You experience time, short or long, creating many rings of experience in your life tree trunk, or perhaps just a few. But they are important rings. Life-giving years, full of nourishment for your soul.


One day your partner dies. There is no longer rich soil for your tree. No longer plentiful water or sunshine. It is as if someone has taken an axe to your tree. Your own life seems dead, without your partner. You stare at the empty space where your tree used to be. Now it is a ghost. A ghost tree. A ghost of a life. It lies shattered on the ground, and only a sad stump remains.


The sad stump of your life seems as dead as your partner. The roots wither, finding no nourishment. Maybe for a long, long time.


One day you are surprised to see a small bud appearing in the middle of the seemingly dead stump of your life. Something happens. It could be a small thing. Maybe you make a new friend. Maybe you receive a new opportunity. Maybe you decide to change something. Maybe you just detect water and sunshine coming from some untraceable source. Maybe it is from within you, maybe it is from without, you may not be sure. But there is a small sign of life.


It grows slowly. Perhaps haltingly. Perhaps the first new leaf on the first new branch dies. Maybe it takes a whole other new branch to find life again. But you realize the stump was not actually dead. It was just dormant. Waiting for what, you are not sure. Time? Energy? You are not sure.


Over time, the tree of your life grows again. It is not the same as the previous tree. It grows from the same stump, but it is a new tree. It may be slightly misshapen. It may be somewhat deformed, compared to the original tree. Its design is different. The shape of the branches, the array of the leaves, is different. But it is again, a tree.


You marvel at the new tree, how it could possibly grow from the seemingly dead stump. And you feel sad for the tree that was lost. But one day you find you have climbed the branches of the new tree and see sunshine. You see rain too, and find it mingles with your tears. But it somehow nourishes the new tree. It has found life again. It is not the same life. But it is a life.


You marvel. You are sad. And you marvel again, at the new deformed tree, and you notice the new branches of grief that grow amidst the others. Somehow, the branches all seem stronger. They must be stronger to bear the weight of the grief branches. They take longer to form, longer to grow, into the stronger supports they must now be. They are more gnarled and tough than the branches in the first tree. 


You realize the new tree is here to stay, so you build a swing and hang it from the strongest branch. You sway back and forth under your new tree, finding you enjoy its shade, and its strength. You wish you had the old tree back. You will always wish you had the old tree back. But you have a tree. Finally, you find you are grateful that you have a tree. 


And you are surprised.


Showing 5 reactions

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.
  • Stephanie Vendrell
    commented 2017-07-28 14:41:39 -0700
    Diane, I am so touched that you were inspired to reach out. I am so deeply sorry for your loss. As Joseph said, loss of a child must absolutely be the worst, and I am grateful that you have found Soaring Spirits to be of some solace to you, and have experienced some rebirth of life after your terrible loss. Sending a big hug.

    Joseph, your partner sounds like she was an absolutely wonderful person. What a hole in our lives after losing our rocks, to be sure. Thank you again for your great support, and hugs to you too.
  • Joseph Kearney
    commented 2017-07-28 05:44:19 -0700
    Diane, you loss is as much, if not more, than losing a partner. I grieve my loss everyday and it hurts. But if I was to lose my child I have no idea how that would feel. I know if my partner was still here and I did lose my child she would of been my Rock and would of helped me tremendously. She was that type of person and she would of done anything to help make my grief more tolerable. I hope you have strong support from your partner. Good luck with your continued journey, it sounds from your post you have turned a corner.

    Thank you for your great post Stephanie!!
  • Diane Taylor
    commented 2017-07-28 04:00:23 -0700
    Hi Stephanie, long time reader but first time commenting. WOW this is so good. It reminds me of a book called “The Giving Tree” – one of my son’s favorites. I lost my 24 year old son Jonathan 5 years ago in a fire (he is my only child) and I have felt like that stump for SO LONG. It feels like forever. This year, something new sprung up in me. I have no idea where or how or why. But I feel like I have turned a corner of sorts. Your post about this tree is exactly how I am feeling right now. I know I didn’t lose my partner – but the writings on this blog have drawn me in, so much of what you all write about hits home with me. Thank you for this post and reminding me that good things do grow from the dirt.
  • Stephanie Vendrell
    commented 2017-07-28 00:08:13 -0700
    Wow, thank you Gayle.
  • Gayle Goldberg
    commented 2017-07-27 14:29:44 -0700
    This is great writing. I can almost see it as a book with illustrations. Thank you.