When my grandfather passed away it felt as if a piece of my heart had been torn away. I imagine anyone who’s ever lost a loved one can understand this feeling. There's a brokenness that hurts so much it seems impossible to heal, but with time and those first, hardest steps, you learn to celebrate life instead of mourn it.
About a month after we’d lost my grandfather, my aunt and uncle, whom he had lived with, decided to plant a tree on the corner of their property where he would often be found watching us kids play.
It was a simple gesture and there wasn’t any big to-do over the planting. My uncle dug the hole and then the family gathered around it and watched as he placed the tree into its place. Though the funeral services had very much been a sad, mournful experience, this was lighter, filled even, with laughter over the wonderful memories my grandfather had given us. Each of us said a few words about why we loved my grandfather and why he was such a wonderful man while placing a handful of dirt at the base of the tree.
Those few moments, standing side by side with my family, I wasn’t alone in my grief. Sharing our memories with one another, acknowledging openly, perhaps for the first time out loud to others, that he was gone, but also, that he would always be with us, watching over us as he always had, started the healing process for us all.
Years later, our small tree has grown into quite a large one. This past summer marked his 10th anniversary, and my uncle had a plaque made to attach to it to commemorate my grandfather’s life.
I know now that the tear I felt long ago will never fully heal. When someone you love so dearly is no longer a phone call, hug or smile away there’s nothing that can fill the hole. But, my grandfather led a full life – one that is meant to be celebrated.
Our tree planting reminded us of that fact and helped us celebrate at a time when it was so very hard to actually do so.
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