Sunday, July 31, 2011

Chris's Tree

I wrote this 3 years ago when we were visiting the cabin. It seem natural to "talk" to Chris as the tree than just write about him. 

      Since you’ve been gone, I’ve watched you grow for 7 years now. I didn’t take much notice of you before that. But when Dad took most of your ashes and let the wind drift them around the foot of that little tree. It became you. Now I have some thing to watch grow even though you are not here. I have been searching for you, your spirit, your being, to no avail. It is what brings me to my knees about you being gone. I want to feel something other than this emptiness, this nothingness. So you are the tree, and if I am lucky, I get to see you once a year.
     I walked out there today and just sat in front and studied you intently. You are not especially pretty, other than the fact that any living thing has its own beauty. You’ve grown taller in the past 7 years. I don’t think you were 5 feet tall at first glance. Now I’m guessing that you are at least 8 or 9 feet tall. You have a bare side (I know, you’d say “bare-assed”), and you are definitely not symmetrical. Most pine trees have this Christmas tree shape of wide branches at the bottom and gracefully angle to a point at the top. Not you. Oh, there are some wide branches at the bottom, skimming your juniper bed for feet.  But, then the branches all but shrink in the middle and then about 3 feet from the top reach out again. There’s this one branch that is pretending to be a contortionist as it tries to twist itself the other way than the way it should be going. You have 2 topknots each about eight inches long, twisting in all sorts of directions. Actually, you Chris, would love it, because it is so unique. Something you always were so proud to claim. As your mother I thought you were just trying to compensate for your shortcomings, but because you were so good at it, and it made people laugh, you just kept it up. More power to you, kiddo.
      You have a beautiful view to look at right in front of the cabin. To the gentle right stands a tree-covered craggy hill. It reminds me of a majestic ancient castle because of its rocky top edge of vertical stones. The clearing of chopped down trees could be it moat, and another spine of rocks to the right looks like a road cut through the forest heading up toward the castle. [Spines of rock like a couple of sleeping green giants cuddled together into an unidentifiable single mass cover the surface. A clearing of trees is the only indication that Other Man inhabits this haven.] On the left are contrasting rolling hills with spots of rock, juniper, and sage. Behind them toward the north are other castle hills. You can watch the deer and occasional elk, maybe even a moose wander contently up the slopes.  Right now and for the first time in years, these soft hills are covered in a blanket of purple lupine on a green grass carpet. If you look a little lower, you see the community (gaggle) of young aspen, their feathery headdresses teasing the breeze, and their toes touching the small brook. A family of bluebirds come here every year to keep you company. On the far right is a dangerously deep precipice that drops several feet to the creek below. I can pretend that you are the king of this castle and lord of all you see.
       This probably isn’t where you wanted to be. You had only come here a handful of times and the only entry in the log is a drawing of you and your dad fishing when you were seven. But your dad definitely takes comfort that “you are here” (Remember, I can’t find you) And other people have expressed that we did a wonderful thing to have your ashes spread here. I just wanted you to be free and touch the water, earth and sky.
      The more I come here though, I try to imagine that you don’t mind it here. You love contradicting things and the land does have contrasting values. You were always on the edge of danger, and here you still have that. So, Chris, here you are…for us. Steph and Sam don’t feel it here…yet, and I try. But it is the one place I know your dad is at peace and can let go (for at least a little while) the anger of losing you.


  1. Suzanne, This won't be my first post on this remarkable sharing on Chris. At first reading, it seems to me that Chris might have been more suited to a different time in our history. He must have had a wonderful sense of humor. He was obviously very sensitive, tuned in to things around him and energetic. With some insight into your brave and interesting family from your writing, it seems Chris would have fit right in with people on that day that changed life in Oklahoma, the move to tough territory like West Texas or making the "family recipe". What would have been his take on your Aunt Elma? She shared some similarities with an aunt of my own. Your lovely insights into the details of nature and relating them to your family, especially your children, is inspired and of course, spiritual. I envy you. My relationships with my children are tenuous with periods of great distance. At other times, I'm the only one who hears their secrets when that odd phone call comes in or when we visit. The more patient I am, sometimes, the more angry they become. Other times, the belly laughs and weird humor comes out that is unique to us. They are in stressful careers and one is in a very public position. One deals daily with life and death. They've taken on a lot. Little do they know how much they are like their ancestors. Like mine, your Chris doesn't seem like he was the ordinary kid. I say this without bias. Don't you feel that some people really do feel things more deeply than others, for whatever reason? Frankly, I've lived long enough to see that some people do live charmed lives without extreme pain, including several siblings, such as the loss of a child, financial issues and other challenges. While I don't wish tough things on others, I would rather know people who survive what would fell lesser people. Working with people with various addictions and or mental health issues which require medication for management, I am constantly humbled to see the awesome, brave and beautiful people that adversity brings forth. I'll enjoy reading this piece while I am away visiting my daughter in another state with what is already starting off as a tough time! It will help me appreciate her as she is, today. These blog opportunities are really fascinating. E-mail, Google, all of it. For all the negative talk about it, I've been able to communicate with family and friends I would lose touch with and to find your blog at a time in life where paths are similar. What a gift. I'll be thinking of your generous sharing of your child very often this week and probably beyond. It also seems to me that this emptiness expressed in your writing at that time and now says so much about you and your honor at being a mother. You obviously have a tremendous sense of family. Again, not everyone feels so deeply, or don't let themselves. Without exaggeration or judgment, my own mother thought only of herself and never of her children. On the other hand, maybe feelings scared her? Your blog has given me a timely opportunity for introspection at a pivotal time in life. All around being a mother... I will keep you on my prayer list and look forward to learning more about your path with Chris. What I see is that he's not away from you to be found but deep with you, already - a closeness only a mother can know. I know you'll see him again one day. I cannot imagine what you feel but you're doing pretty darn well sharing about it! I hope you'll compile all of this into a book someday. God Bless you. Elise

  2. As an English teacher and a mom, this Emily Dickinson poem about life, nature and faith must mean a great deal to you:

    If I can stop one heart from breaking,
    I shall not live in vain;
    If I can ease one life the aching,
    Or cool one pain,
    Or help one fainting robin
    Unto his nest again,
    I shall not live in vain.

    Your insight into nature and how we are part of all around us, if we will only look, is really fantastic.

    I love being a mother and at times, my son calls me "Edith". As in Bunker. I take it as a compliment! Especially when I cry over all the little things - good and bad.

    Thank you for your blog.

  3. Suzanne - It occurred to me that in my post this morning, I may have come across as thoughtless when I remarked that your Chris is already with you - rather than a meaning or process that only you can determine. Please forgive me if I seemed cavalier toward your generous sharing of such tender feelings as you find your way to Chris in higher ways - again, that only a mother can know. And again, I value your blog so much, as I travel to see my daughter, a dear and difficult 35 yer old woman. I can look at her differently learning more about motherhood through your writing. As in 1 Corinthians - "Love is patient and kind." I'll have my laptop and will look forward to any new postings from you. Take care. Elise

  4. Elise, Please know that I did not take any offense to what you have said. Your words have been nothing but insightful, encouraging, and kind. You add so much with your comments. I believe that interpretation of anyone's writing is dependent on the reader. While you are usually "spot-on" with what I'm trying to get across, I have loved how you have taken the story as your own to apply it to your own experiences. I wish you the best as you travel and visit with your daughter.
    Thank you,

  5. Suzanne, You are a kind person. Thank you for reassuring me. I told a friend about your blog. Most of all, she is overwhelmed by your direct and generous style. She also read some of my posts and suggested I've been cooped up a long time and need to take it down a notch and not wear out my welcome! Suzanne, I've come close to canceling my trip - several times. It hit me that if your son was here, nothing would keep you away from visiting him no matter how uncomfortable things were. I will hug my daughter every 15 minutes. I've never subscribed to the philosophy that children need to make the first move when there is conflict. They are in pain when they lash out. My friend pointed out that I work better with other people's children. Your blog is being shared. I hope get more feedback. Chris will let you know about the next part of the adventure. When I lost my father, it took years to make contact in a way I believed. One day a breath of wind came with words I could hear without a doubt that it was him. He said, "All is well. I am safe. I believe." It reminded me of the breath of the Holy Spirit and my own faith took a real leap. The loss I felt was different - pure and simple. If you feel like it, please give all who read your blog the inspiration and the ability to support you on your journey. I really enjoy the Beth Moore Bible studies - sometimes with others - sometimes, alone. Also William James and Emmett Fox. Thank you and bless you. Elise

  6. Suzanne - For the second time in several weeks I have gone out. Once to get chocolate and buy the rose bush and, today - with my son who is chronically ill after a serious surgery for a brain tumor. He will not live a very long time but for now, he is here. Of course, he lives at home. He is an artist. He lives life to the fullest and some don't even know he's terminal. He's slow, it's hot, he's temperamental and I am getting my land legs. I was a little impatient with him and found myself reassuring him he had done nothing wrong. He is dear. I came home and once again, read this about your Chris. It could not be more intense your love for your son and how much appreciated he was for his obviously unique place in this world. No wonder you are all at your various stages of dealing with his loss. What can we ever give someone except the knowledge wherever they are, that they're not forgotten - that they left a mark. Frankly, some people don't. It's one reason I love genealogy. It's a deep appreciation and learning from ancestors - the good and the bad - the humorous. My son will never have children but he'll leave something behind. You'll like this. We bought a chocolate raspberry truffle bar and split it on the way home - in 104 heat. Tell everyone about your blog. I do. Elise

  7. Elise, I rejoice in your outings. They show that you are living in the Now (No, I haven't yet read Eckhart Tolle's book, even though I believe that Now is all we have) I will treasure the image of you and your precious son sharing that truffle bar! What joy! - Suzanne


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