Family Tree Revisited aka The Last Time I Saw my Mother


In the beauty of trees Mother Nature has always offered me a resting place I call home, one that feeds my soul and sustains me, that I can count on to always be there and whose changes I can observe through the  seasons of life.  Perhaps I read way too much into things but trees, especially the familiar ones I see frequently, are like friends that stand tall and bear the brunt of storms, surviving tempests and turmoil that can nearly level the most stout-hearted to the ground.  They look different in the changing light of day from early morning gray mists to the brutal yellow light of noon to the relief of the purple sky at dusk.  If I pay attention I can observe these changes and appreciate the unique beauty that each one offers at various moments in time.

The trees pictured here are two of my favorite resting places on Turkey Creek right in the serene backdrop of my own backyard, a marshy, swampy wilderness in South Carolina.  The cluster of two trees, twisting, touching in places with offshoots, is what I have titled “Family Tree” through all the nearly twenty years we’ve lived here.  I have watched the silent growth of these trees and compared it to the members of my immediate family, how we’ve slowly grown stronger, older and more stout-hearted through the years.  The long, hot summer has kept me from visiting in awhile and I notice the poison ivy creeping up the trunks like a choking toxin that needs to be eradicated before it takes over this precious tree.  I am reminded to tend to my own creeping poison ivy in my life, the areas of negativity and pain that only get worse if ignored and that certainly choke growth.

The other picture of the tree looking skyward is a giant pine growing in the middle of the wild part of the backyard.  I have often appreciated its towering strength rising above all the other trees surrounding it, including the “Family Tree.”  I never gave this tree a name but I feel like it now and will call it “Mama Tree” for the way its strong presence permeates all that exists nearby and provides shelter from the storms for wildlife.  I have seen many squirrels race up and down her massive trunk and chase in her sprawling branches.  In her lofty perch I’ve seen hawks and eagles rest and scout for prey.  I too have taken comfort from her and wandered about her trunk like a toddler playing in her mother’s skirt.  I have worried over this tree as well that her rooted base in the soft marsh earth moistened by the changing tides would one day cause her to topple over.  She has survived many a storm and a few hurricanes so far but for how long?

I can’t talk about the naming of “Mama Tree” without acknowledging that the inspiration to honor this tree is coming from the grief and sorrow I’ve been dealing with since my mother died over a year ago.  The picture here is the last time I saw her in Pennsylvania a week before her 85th birthday.  It was snowing in January that visit and I was like an excited little girl taking pictures of the snowy wonders I NEVER get to see in the south.  I got the nudge to go visit and flew there by myself to enjoy a long weekend with her and a few of my sisters, not knowing it would be my last visit.  I even got to stay with her and share the double bed in her assisted living apartment, something I’m sure hadn’t happened since I was a child.  It was a very special time to connect with my mom and feel her unconditional love that has blessed me my whole life.  On May 1st, 2014, she breathed her last breath and I wasn’t able to be at her bedside in the hospital with my siblings.  The long distance made that trip impossible to make in time.

My good-byes were by phone hours after the machines were unplugged and she lingered in a coma.  We were told there was no brain activity.  I don’t know if she could hear me but I appreciated my brother thinking of this and calling me.  I was with my son who was helping me drive around and take care of last minute work details so we could be at her funeral, when the time came.  I was an emotional mess and his presence calmed me as we sat in the parked car outside my job and I said goodbye to my sweet mom, telling her we loved her and Jesus was waiting for her.  She passed about five minutes later.  In the sacred mysteries that permeate life and death, I don’t know if on some level my mom was aware of the presence of my siblings at her death bed or my voice saying goodbye but I have some peace believing that she was also saying goodbye for now, letting go of this life to go to the glory of the next life where her husband, sons, parents, brothers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends awaited her.

Studying this picture of “Mama Tree” I notice that  the top half of her seems cut off and since this picture was just taken earlier today, I wondered if a recent storm had indeed toppled part of her over.  I lathered myself in bug spray and trudged through the squishy mud from the recent tide to see for myself.  I walked around her massive trunk like that toddler in her mother’s skirts but covered in black mud on bare feet in flip flops and did not see any signs of fallen branches in a sea of elephant ear plants and a carpet of pine needles.  I did see a lot of poison ivy creeping up her trunk as it did the “Family Tree” and I know that I must come back and remove these toxic vines that threaten to choke these precious trees.  If I had thought to grab the garden gloves and clippers I would have done so right then.  I do know my visits to these special trees need to be more frequent, it does my soul good to rest awhile among their branches.

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