The Lesson I’m Learning About Loss

I have an attachment to trees. I miss when they are gone. We lost a tree almost five years ago to Tropical Storm Irene. It was a storm that devastated my state, my town, and many homes. People had to leave their homes and the lucky ones rebuilt and came back. Living on a hill away from the river saved us from flooding, but our favorite apple tree rotted in the rain. I pulled up my bedroom blinds the morning after the heavy rains and saw the three sections of tree splayed on the ground. I held back tears. It was the one tree in our yard that the kids could climb. They sat there, they swung from a branch, they hung, they flipped. It was the third apple tree in a row and it created a balance. Without it, our yard didn’t feel right.

My daughters missed the tree terribly, too, but they didn’t grieve as long. They started looking for opportunity. What other tree in our yard could they climb? We didn’t have a lot of options in our village lot, but my husband thought that the lone elm at the very back of our yard might work. All I saw was a tall, limbless trunk. Visualizing has never come easily to me.

My husband attached wooden rungs as foot holds on the tall trunk and built a platform upon the crooks of the big branches. We called the spot the eagle’s nest, as it served as a high lookout beneath the canopy of the tree.

The kids loved this spot and retreated there with popsicles and with friends. Then our neighbor asked that we cut back one of the branches that reached towards her house. And there was another branch stretching towards the street. The tree lost its protective feeling, but my kids moved on; they asked if they could have a rope swing now that there weren’t so many branches. Again, they went with the flow and looked for opportunity. And they got it, after pestering their dad again.

I am able to see the lesson, through writing this, of my kids’ forward thinking. Yes, they miss things that they’re attached to, sometimes dramatically so, but they move on more quickly. I’m trying to get better at recognizing that we can mourn our losses and also be open to new possibilities.

This spring, my younger daughter brought home a fir tree seedling, which every fourth grader in her school received. It sat in its long plastic bag in our fridge for about two weeks then my husband and my daughter planted the seedling in the rain, just as the apple tree had come down in the rain. Only this rain was lighter. More of a drizzle. They planted the seedling right below the spot where the apple tree once grew.

I’m not really sure how the fir tree will look there because, remember, I don’t visualize well. If I’d been outside when the tree was planted, I might have argued against that space. I might have been protective and not wanted a tree there that wasn’t another apple tree, a more true replacement. Luckily, I was not part of the planting because having that skinny seedling there has challenged me to accept loss and move towards growth. It hasn’t been easy. Part of me wants to sneak out and dig up that tiny piece of tree and move it before the roots attach, but I know that wouldn’t be the right thing to do.

Last night, my daughter ran out in her pjs to water the tree before bed. She was attentive and nurturing in a way that was so sweet that it made my resistance give way a little. I may never love this new tree, but focusing on its growth feels like an opportunity and right now I’m all about seizing opportunities.

Originally published at