I have a cherry tree in the corner of my backyard, well, more like a cherry bush of sorts. I’m far from a gardener and have managed to misplace the name tag that tells me how to care for the thing somewhere over the years. We’re now at the stage where we go nuts with the pruning sheers and hope for the best. For the past six years I’ve watched that tree grow bigger and bigger out there, slowly encroaching our backyard firepit as it reaches high beyond the fence.
My in laws bought us the tree and it sat potted in our yard for a good while before we finally brought out the shovel to plant it. Picking a spot for it in the yard and taking the few minutes to dig up some soil to make space for it to take root felt like an arduous task, so my husband and I put it off for days until it was no longer looking happy in it’s temporary plastic home.
See, the tree was purchased for us, but not so much as a gift – but as a memento. One spring years ago, nearly half way into our second pregnancy, we bid farewell unexpectedly to a little girl. We had nothing to remember her by aside from a picture of a positive pregnancy test and a few selfies of my expanding belly. Even though there were no tangible reminders of her here, no lock of hair, hospital bracelet, photo, or footprint – we wanted to remember. We needed to remember her someway, somehow. So my parents picked out the tree that would serve as our marker of a life we loved and failed to know.
The irony of picking something that grew to mark the life that failed to thrive was not lost on me. In some ways, it serves as a reminder of how she would have grown. She would have matured, branched out, and blossomed into a young lady. I am still curious what she would have been like, whose nose she’d have, whether her hair would be curly or straight, and if she’d like books like her brother.
But a tree that blossoms each spring the same week we said goodbye is all we have to remember.
Remembering is tricky, isn’t it? That tree in my yard is a memorial to a lost daughter. It serves as a stark reminder that we have felt pain, excruciating, soul-wrenching pain. And yet having it there also brings comfort. Remembering is a ‘both’ experience. When we remember, we feel the ache of loss and longing – but also a sense of closeness with the one who is gone. That tree is my way of staying connected to a part of my story that has profoundly shaped me, and one that is full of enough pain that it’s tempting to forget. For me the early spring buds that sprout serve as a reminder to pause and remember her, and also as a reminder that we keep going, and growing, and that life keeps moving even in the face of loss.
A show I watched recently showed a grown up daughter watching football ‘with her dad’, or really, with his ashes in the urn beside her.
And some people hang pictures, others tell stories, carry on traditions, or wear lockets with loved one’s pictures in them.
What’s important to know is that there is no wrong way to remember. Whether it’s by yourself, with a friend, as a family – the ways we choose to remember those we’ve lost, and the ways in which we do it are as varied and diverse as we are. The ways in which it happens are not so important, so long as we are making space to honour those who we hold dear.