I love my yard. If you have been to my house, you most likely know that my landscape consists of numerous “memory” trees, flowers or plants. I began this tradition so many years ago when Amy and I wanted to get a “droopy tree.” (I’m aware that there is correct name for this type of ornamental tree, but I have no idea what it is, and our name is so much cuter). So we both went out and bought one. She has moved since she planted hers, but mine still stands in my front yard, and is now commonly referred to as my Amy tree.
Six years ago in the spring, I went out and purchased a Wisteria. Those are the beautiful purple flowers that hang so perfectly on other people’s vines. I say other people, because my dad had a Wisteria that he tenderly took care of and it flourished, but it never flowered, and now I have a Wisteria that is flourishing, but doesn’t flower. Figures, eh?
And so the list goes on, each friend that I have had to say goodbye too and some that are still in my life, I have planted something for. I often walk around my yard just remembering things that I did with the people that the plant reminds me of. It’s probably a very weird thing to do, but I really don’t care.
Whether or not people knew this was a tradition of mine, we have received 3 different trees to honor Grace, all with pink flowers. They are strategically placed so that I can see them outside of most of my windows.
As I was thinking about those trees the other day, I realized that my grief, grief in general, is so similar to a tree. Hear me out…
Our trees stand firm in the yard, but all you can see of them is what is above the surface, what is visible and obvious. Our loss is obvious, it’s glaringly obvious. It stands up, out of the ground, for all to see. But what people don’t see, the real tragedy of grief, is the roots.
The roots spread, they entangle, they suck the nutrients out of the ground. Often times, you seek to dig up a tree and find the roots have traveled 20 feet away. They are tough, unwavering and unwilling to give up. They take over every area of ground that is directly beneath that very obvious tree, completely unseen and unrecognized.
Grief…losing someone you love…losing a child…takes over every area of your life. What people don’t see (and this is not their fault, until they live it), is the massive undertaking it is to carry on with daily life. You see my loss, but I wake up early and realize the TV is quiet, for the 4th month is a row, because there is no early bird watching it. You see my loss, but I can’t remember what the song was that we sang in 4th grade about buttons, and I have no one to ask. You see my loss, but I don’t get brownies when I’m crabby, because she just knew I needed them. You see my loss, but I see how my entire family dynamic has changed and I can’t fix it. There are roots to grief that will stretch throughout my entire life…10, 20, 30 years away from that cold winter day in January.
And sometimes the realization of the limitlessness of loss can be overwhelming. There are moments when I look at my life, what I perceive as my forever, and I realize that this emptiness will never be filled. There will always be a place that remains hollow, unable to be occupied by anything or anyone whose name is not Grace Elizabeth. That is a fact. That is my reality.
However, Paul says in Philippians 3:13-14 “One thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
Is Paul saying that we should just forget what we have been through, where we came from? I don’t think he is. What I think he is saying is, instead of allowing your past to dictate your future, learn from your past and allow it to shape your future. I will continue to strain ahead, when the days are long and lonely, and when I have a good day filled with love and joy. I will continue to grieve my loss, while I rejoice in our eventual reunion. I will press on toward the goal, eternity with my Savior and my Grace.
But while I am here, while I walk on this ground, I will allow the roots of grief to tangle and twist in my life, but I will not allow them to bend or break me.