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Death and the Willow Tree
I have lots of stories about my Daddy. He took us fishing and camping, made homemade ice cream on Sunday afternoons, played the guitar and sang us sad and silly songs, taught us a love for music, made furniture for our dolls, taught us to drive, fussed when we brought long-haired boys home with us, walked us down the aisle when we were brides, held our babies and made goofy faces to make them laugh, and left us heartbroken at his passing.
We all know that the event of dying is a part of life. But with the death of someone we love comes a mixture of pain because of our loss, yet a celebration for the life they lived well, and the experience of deepened family connection in our time of grief. At least that’s how I experienced it. My Daddy died 13 years ago today. We buried him in a row of family plots that sits behind the church where he married my mother. As I move down the row, touching each gravestone, stories of generations past play through my mind. I know only bits and pieces of their lives and I’m saddened by the fact that so many of their stories died with them – ones I’ll never get to hear. So I often ask my mother to share the stories of her 90 years and she obliges me.
One story she tells happened in her own family. In the little farming community where she grew up there was a belief that the person who plants a weeping willow tree will die once the tree grows large enough to shade their grave. When my mother’s Aunt Martha died, Grandpa Whitlatch took his axe and cut down the willow tree she’d planted. If his daughter could no longer experience life this side of the grave, well, neither was the tree going to be permitted to ever shade again.
Most of us hold no such belief in our vast world of knowledge available to us at the touch of a screen. But what we do hold are the stories – ones of joy and laughter, of pain and sorrow, and the continued thread of love we experience through the generations, and not even death can sever that.