83: The Joshua Tree

83: The Joshua Tree

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Grieving and Recovery

The Joshua Tree

Alone with myself The trees bend to caress me The shade hugs my heart

~Candy Polgar

Grief is much like water pouring over the rocks in the streams. It needs time to shape a person. I have learned to let grief slowly wash over me, polishing away the hard places and leaving me with the heart of a survivor.

Joshua left us five years ago after taking his life in a lonely attic, miles away from those who loved him. I suppose he thought this would make it easier on me. It didn’t. Instead it tortured me that I was not with him as he took his last breath. Although many of the days following his death have run together for me, one day in particular stays with me. It was the day I learned that being a mom does not end after death.

It was muggy and gray when I stepped into the seaside cemetery, which was to be home to my son’s body. My legs could barely hold me, and if not for the support of my mom and dad I would not have been able to stand. As I looked around at the headstones, my body experienced the delicate balance between shock and grief. It seemed as if they took turns, one needing me to understand what was going on and the other protecting me from the same.

A tall man with a clipboard approached and began to speak with us about plots and plans as he pointed to the little squares that represented burial plots on his paper. “Are you looking for just one, or several?” he asked. “In which area would you like your son to be buried?” As he spoke, I noticed a tree off in the distance. Before I knew it, I was standing beneath this refuge in my painful storm. The branches leaned over me, both protecting me from the heat and taking me away from the painful conversation I had just left.

I stared, almost mesmerized by the sheer strength and yet vulnerability of this tree. It was so much like me. It was an oak with a large trunk and branches reaching towards the ocean. There were many birds singing and squirrels chasing each other in and out of its leaves. I felt the presence of life and protection all at once and needed Joshua to be buried right where I was standing. I took my sandals off to stand a moment in the thick grass and suddenly knew in my heart that this was the place for my son. If I could not be here to protect him, then this tree would shelter him for me. And then I shouted, “THIS IS THE PLACE FOR MY SON.”

They all turned to see a mother standing in the shade of a tree, with her head held high and her body strong, using the very last bit of energy she had, in order to make certain that her last act of caring for her son on earth would be equal to every other decision she had made as his mom. I made certain to stay in this moment for as long as I could, even as the unbearable reality and shock desperately worked against me. “Please, this is the place for my son’s body to rest,” I said.

The man gazed for a moment at the area, looking around to see if it was possible, and then took another look at the paper in his hands. “I am sorry, we do not have a plot here, and the cemetery does not extend this far,” he said, with a look of disappointment.

I must have succumbed to the sweet allure of a momentary break in the pain and left reality behind. The negative words he spoke seemed to almost bounce off me, as I knew in my heart that no matter what, my child would rest here. In a quiet voice, I simply stated again, “This is the place for my son to rest.” And between two worlds I waited.

A few minutes later, after pacing, making some phone calls and double-checking the plans on his paper, he walked back towards me and said proudly, “Your son will rest in peace here under this tree.” My heart lightened, though there was no room in that moment for joy, for I had just gotten an answer to a question I never wanted to ask. Yet I was proud that even after the life was gone from my son’s body, after his soul no longer lingered on this earth, that I could still be Josh’s mom. And then I collapsed into the car, with no more energy or life left in me. I gave all that I had that day.

In the years since Joshua’s death, this tree has been a true servant to all of those who sit a while with my son. It has protected us from the snow and the rain and even watched over the many flowers that have been placed at his head. It has listened to the wails of a desperate mother and other family as we beg for Josh to come back. There were many times when I would show up late at night, unable to sleep without kissing my son goodnight, and the tree was my only shelter.

This tree has also seen its share of laughter, as Joshua’s sisters play cards and sing to him and tell some of the silly jokes he loved. Although this tree has given much of itself, the most remarkable blessing and the one I cherish is that it taught me to honor my grief, to let it take me where I needed to go.

On the fifth anniversary of Joshua’s passing, as I visited my son, I noticed that the tree proudly wore a handmade sign carved in wood with a thick strap resting around its trunk. The sign read, “THE JOSHUA TREE.”

~Amanda Pool

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