The Unexpected Grief of Becoming Uprooted

That was me, late last week, quietly sobbing in my front yard and talking to my tree.

Whoa, lady, whatcha doing? That’s weird.

Stick with me for a minute…

So, there I am, in the early morning hours, telling my tree it would be OK. I would take care of her.

(Yes, I just referred to a tree as “her”… just go with it….)

We had a rainstorm on Halloween night that didn’t keep away the waterlogged Wonder Women and soaked Spidermen. After all the candy was gone – I am single-handedly responsible for the disappearance of the Butterfingers – I went to sleep to an appropriate Halloween soundtrack – the sounds of howling wind.

I heard nothing else. Imagine my surprise the following morning to step outside and see this tree – a fixture on our property since we moved in more than eleven years ago – felled across the lawn.

We are surrounded by woods full of skinny, compromised trees that look as if a huff and a puff could blow them over. Yet each of those was still standing tall.

So there was some shock that this solid beauty was the one to succumb to the storm.

We were lucky, I realized. It hadn’t hit the house.

But still, I mourned.

This tree had grown and blossomed in the years we’ve lived here, much like my kids.

I loved this tree. Not as much as my kids but in an entirely tree-appropriate way.

I had just never told her so. (There I go, with my tree pronouns again)…

She had always been there. She flowered in the spring and sported beautiful hues in fall and caught the glint of the sun in her branches full of snow in the winter.

She had housed a number of bird families whose good morning songs welcomed each day.

It was like losing more than a tree limb.

It was just so… sad and unexpected.

She would be saved, I determined.

I called area arborists. But it was clear that unless there was a house or car or, god forbid, a person or power lines under this tree, it would be weeks before someone could get to us.

I texted photos of the damage. From the looks of her, could she be saved?

Each returned the same expert advice:

“We don’t recommend trying to save this tree.”

It would take a crane to lift her, an expensive proposition. And if we did that, her bountiful canopy meant even if staked with supports, she’d likely succumb to high winds. Again and again.

Here’s what I couldn’t see:

While she flourished above ground, she had little stability beneath. Her root system was shallow. Our soil had an undesirable high clay component. Recent rains flooding the area had made her grip even more tenuous.

While she appeared healthy and strong from season to season, she did not have what she needed most — a strong foundation of support.

I hadn’t known this.

How could I have known what she lacked? We can’t see what’s not visible to the eye.

You see where I’m going with this, right?

Each of us, in our own way, is the tree.

I write about symbolic stories I see everywhere – like the ladybug in the bathtub or the hot dog at the ballgame or the unexpected joy of a dress with pockets.

This tree that had always appeared to flourish now revealed that her roots were never strong enough to support her growth and reach.

How strong is your support system?

She is anyone who appears healthy and strong to the world.

She doesn’t show the insecurity of what lies beneath, the lack we hide from others’ eyes.

Are your roots strong enough to withstand the blowing winds?

How can you get necessary support when you’re not showing you are in need?

By the fifth tree expert, I came to the conclusion it was time to let the tree go.

She might well continue growing, even on her side, I was told. But her root system had been so severely compromised that even if she survived, she’d never be the same again.

Our best plan would be to shore up the soil and plant again come spring.

I’m not sure I want to. Some holes are not easily filled.

For now, she lies on her side, a graceful beauty in rest.

I visit her daily and hold onto her trunk, grounding myself in her loss.

I thank her for the beauty she brought to our lives.

Valerie Gordon, Commander-in-She

 

Valerie Gordon is a long-time storyteller and the founder of career and communications strategy firm Commander-in-She. She speaks and blogs about work and life and the power of storytelling. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

 

 

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