Tree of Death

Artwork by Hughie Lee-Smith

Driving home last week, I turned onto a road parallel to our road and like a magnet I was pulled into a work area where the town crew had recently cut down trees in close proximity to power lines. My heart plunged. I knew what I would witness BEFORE I encountered yet another raw reality. Of the few trees the crew cut down, MY SON’S tree was among them. The sight of the fresh stumps, chopped down trees and severed branches was like losing him all over again.

I blogged about HIS tree last summer when I wrote about our ailing cat’s disappearance: “Later, I discovered that during Chervony’s disappearance, he had sheltered under a tree on which my son’s name that he carved into it in 2008, remains. I came to the stunning realization that the cat had been undergoing his own fashion of mourning.

Since my son’s passing, I avoided looking too much at HIS tree with its prevalent boxed letters: “Marshall 2008.” The actual sight of it reminded me how he was everywhere, but nowhere at all. Concurrently, knowing HIS tree stood signified my beloved son existed. Once shunned by a kindergarten teacher for lack of “fine motor skills,” he had carved up HIS tree with force, vim and artistic achievement. He mattered.

I could barely stand erect when I witnessed HIS tree cut to the ground and missing, a victim to a wood chipper. It felt like another stab spiked threw my heart, already slashed and beyond repair, a bleeding valve of hurt. It was another typical “Marshall Story.” When you couldn’t imagine him enduring any more blows in life, another targeted him. Brush, cut up bark and sawdust; I felt like I was looking at the irreversible damage through his eyes.

I could hear him under his breath, inwardly despairing, “Figures.”

My eyes were tear stained imagining the unimaginable. If he witnessed HIS tree gone, his eyes would be dry. He learned early how society expected men to soldier on and “be men.” Lift their bone dry-eyes up and look toward the sun no matter how much the rays burn through the irises.

Out of a variety of definitions of faith, one is “believing without seeing or fully comprehending something.”

I lived most of my life in a spiritual realm, believing without seeing, even after witnessing unimaginable, incomprehensible things that no human being  should experience. Now, after recently being diagnosed with PTSD, one thing that helps me is sinking my teeth into REAL things like a hamburger. In other words, maybe some others can champion their lives on magic carpets woven with affirmations, positive thinking and happy thoughts, but fantasy thinking got me into a heap of trouble. Try, for instance, going to the bank and telling the teller you’ll pay your mortgage after your book hits the best seller’s list. I was in those shoes, and they aren’t Cinderella’s.

Finally, retiring my glass slippers fourteen months after my son’s demise, the following is a quote that I’ve also sunk my teeth into. The words help pull me up and put one foot in front of another. “In the 1960s, I began to lose my youthful dream of a better world – free of racism, free of the threat of instantaneous cremation of the bomb – and feed on a slow burning disillusionment. As a consequence, my work turned inward, and I began to seek some sort of essence to it all.”

The quote is from Hughie Lee-Smith (1915-1999). He was an American artist and teacher who is known for his highly realistic and somewhat surreal paintings of figures in desolate urban landscapes that are fraught with psychological tension.

HIS tree no more

Learning to reprogram myself for “a slow burning disillusionment,” I came face-to-face with MY SON’s cut down tree. Metaphorically, a life cut short; a life short-changed. I endured reliving the trauma AGAIN. Revisiting the unbearable head on. Immediately, I knew there is nowhere for me to turn outward without taking the chance of being plummeted. I can’t go down any farther. I am at ground level, eye-to-eye with a tree stump. At this level, for me finding the “essence to it all” is through creative expression. For Lee-Smith, it was artwork. In my case, reading, writing and ushering myself to make-believe worlds.

With this psyche I examined the damaged landscape. I soldiered away and tried to recall what my reading list entailed. As I dog paddled forward through my ocean of tears, I sailed on faith, believing somewhere in this heap of sawed down dust of nothing there is something of substance, just a kernel of meat for me to sink my teeth into.

Faith Muscle

26 thoughts on “Tree of Death

  1. I am sorry about the tree, and in a way, facing his loss once again. I cannot imagine your pain. Perhaps the message is that he is not in any object, he will forever be in your heart, and that will have to be enough for now.
    I wish you the best in dealing with PTSD. You write so well. I think that you are able to help a lot people with the lessons you are learning.
    I still go through life daily expecting miracles, and I know they will come… for me and for you!
    Continue, one step at a time, reading, writing, spreading love. Every time I am here I think of my favorite Rumi quote:
    “The wound is the place where the Light enters you.” You are so much shining light!!!
    Blessings to you! ♥♥

  2. I am saddened when any tree is cut down, but the loss of this special tree means so much more. I’ve read that we are just beginning to discover the underground network connecting trees and that living trees will sometimes continue to give support and nourishment to the ones that have been cut down. Perhaps the remaining forest shares your grief and will remember your son as we do who read your blog.

    • What a beautiful way to look at it, JoAnna! The “grief forest.” That’s how I will name that tear-stained piece of property. I can’t thank you enough. The support I receive from my fellow bloggers far exceeds any other community.

      • You are very welcome from me and the trees. I feel the same way about the support here. I don’t have as much time as I’d like to read all the blogs I’d like. So I pick out posts that pull on my heart like yours. I think there’s a special richness in that.

    • So nice to virtually meet you Judy! You have no idea how comforting your post is to me. It made me cry too! Your expressive writing is heartfelt and deep like a brave, bereaved mom’s reservoir of tears. I am grateful you entered my life. Thank you so much for your feedback, wisdom, resilience and gift of presence. xo

      • Oh, Stacey, your words mean so much to me. I was wondering how you would receive them. I am very touched you wrote back.

        I share my healing music and story on the app insight timer, which is free. But you don’t need the app to hear me tonight. I’m going to read my story that shares how it felt to lose my son. Wish me luck, because I still cry even during my run-throughs.
        I do this to honor my son and his memory. I know it helps other people because I am describing what they might not be able to. Grief is truly indescribable. Thinking of you, as well. Below is a link that goes directly to my session tonight.

      • I was JUST listening to your healing music. I will sign on tonight! I will share the link with my friend also. She lost her son January 2011. He happened to be my son’s best friend. THANK YOU AGAIN!

      • I thought of you tonight. I wondered how my story might have been since your grief is in that raw place right now. Thinking of you.
        Very touched that you were planning to sign on tonight. I do plan to do this one again on Friday.

      • Hi Judy, I did watch from beginning to end last night. Of course, I cried at a number of places. Twenty-eight years ago, my preemie son was also born with CHD, certainly not nearly as severe as Jason’s. My son underwent two surgeries, including open heart. You prompted my memory of that difficult time, which, in fact, was bittersweet. The memory prompts made me feel sad, but also grateful. I was a very self-indulged person before the birth of my son. After his birth, he taught me about true, unconditional love. Thanks to him, I have become a better person. I am forever grateful for that experience. Anyway, thank you for sharing so much of yourself to the world through your words, writing and music. I marvel at your strength and spirit. Your name is Judy, but it should be Joy, because you spread a much-appreciated positivity in the world.

      • Hi Stacey, thank you for this touching message that I am treasuring. I believe I was speaking to you. I knew that someone who had not experienced this wouldn’t relate in their bones, the way you would. I am sorry for what you have gone through and even though I prompted tears – I know that is healing.
        I hope I am uplifting others with my joy (not easy with this pandemic), but I am certainly grateful to be out of the dark place I lived in for so long. It is 29 years since my son died this October, and it amazes me how vivid the story still is.
        I see you have an archive of grief posts, as well as a book. I will look at them (it will take me some time, as you have a lot). But I appreciate very much that you watched my live session. I am choked up, actually!
        Please feel free to email me: at any time. I plan to repeat this reading again. Take care, my new friend.

      • Dear New Friend! Thank you for your email address. I will definitely stay in touch! In addition, I am also looking forward to watching your future shows and reading your posts! Hope to hear from you soon.

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