The Gift of a Tree
"You didn't tell me you were expecting a package from Canada," my husband said, as he carried in a box freshly delivered by the post. "Well, that's because I didn't KNOW I was expecting one!" I replied, as we began to tear the box open. Inside were three things: a card with a lovely message on it, a book about pet loss, and a painting of a lone oak tree in a farm field at sunrise.
The gift was from Paula Roberts-Banks, whom I became friends with on Blipfoto years ago, while she was posting marvelous, creative photos of her awesome dogs, Soleil and Arwen, and I was posting pictures of our beloved tabbycat Dexter.
In late October, we suddenly lost Dexter to a quick-growing cancer we didn't even know he had; it was a sucker-punch to the gut that left us reeling. A month later, Paula and her family suddenly lost Soleil, in a horrifyingly quick and painful turn of events, in just a few hours. So it was that we became sisters in sudden grief, a part of the bigger family of those who have loved and lost pets whom they adored with all of their hearts.
The painting of the tree is one that Paula did herself, and I loved it from the moment I first saw it posted on Facebook. I can't even explain this part, but I immediately recognized the tree as one of my very own favorite local oaks - to be specific, a tree known locally as the Baileyville white oak. I loved the painting online, and then my friend SENT it to me!
The story of my tree is that it sat in a farm field near the town of Pennsylvania Furnace, and I coveted it for years before finally stopping along the road for a picture. I got to photograph it only a few times, before a storm took a large branch of the tree down and the tree eventually fell and was removed. Oh, that big empty spot in the field hurts me now every time I see it; there is a Great Silence in the Force where the tree once stood.
Of course, I immediately got on Facebook and wrote a note to my friend, thanking her for this tree, the box of gifts. She told me that the painting was of a memory she had, of an oak tree that she had loved in a place where she used to live. She hoped it would remind me of love, and loss, and memory. And friendship.
I'll share a quote or two from my posting that talked about the demise of this tree: "I was thinking mournful thoughts, like: Why do I bother even caring about things like trees? Why, why, why? Nothing ever lasts, and it only leads to pain. LOVE is the ultimate cause of suffering; if you didn't care about anything at all, it wouldn't hurt when it was gone."
But then, of all the ridiculous things, I was interrupted by a gleeful herd of cows that morning; contented but clearly curious bovines that followed me around while I walked the pretty little cemetery on a hill, as I became some absurd Pied Piper of Cows. And I concluded with this bit of wisdom:
"So here's a wish. May there be laughter with your tears, and may there be curious cows along all your sad graveyards. Oh, and if you love me, oh if you love me even a little bit, if you love me at all, plant a tree. . . ."
I cannot stop time. I cannot fix all of what is broken in this world. I cannot bring back those we have lost. Sometimes, I cannot stop my tears for the ones who have gone on before us into the Next Place: my precious sister, the beloved cat - Dexter - that she gifted me, who gave my life so much joy.
But I can remember them and celebrate them and honor them. I can try to live each moment fully, knowing that all things eventually end. I can hold onto the best of what we had and lost through memory . . . and through art. We who have loved well are strong enough to carry the ones we love with us in our hearts; yes, we can carry them from here. . . .
Thank you, my friend, for the tree.
The tree of memory.
A reminder of loss; but also . . .
Of love that never ends.
There are two soundtrack songs to go with this image and story. Both are by U2, oddly enough. The first is One Tree Hill, sung wistfully by Bono. And the second is California (There Is No End to Love). Here are some lyrics from the second song: "There is no end to grief. This is how we know there is no end to love."
A link to a photo of the portrait of Dexter that Paula made for me several years ago; an especially treasured possession, now that Dexter himself is no longer physically with us.