A Tree for All Seasons


A month after losing Nelle, we scattered her ashes to the coulee where I grew up.  I was still in a dense fog of grief.  It was Ger’s suggestion to bring her to the tree where my grandfather’s ashes had been scattered in 2011.  The Sheltering Oak is nestled back on my aunt and uncle’s land and on that day in early October 2015, Ger and I walked back there alone.  It was  crisp, Fall day with a bright, cold sun.  Leaves were making their descent from the branches to the ground.  We sat in silence for a long time.  Just sat.  I couldn’t bring myself to leave the tree, and leave her there. Continue reading

Familial Laughter


This past weekend, I went to Wisconsin for a wedding shower, staying with my aunt and uncle.  Meeting Autumn for the first time was a flurry as I dropped the carseat into their entryway and headed back to my vehicle to retrieve all of the stuff.  My aunt peered into the face of her “griece,” as she calls her (great-nice).  Autumn began belly laughing, and didn’t stop.  She continued laughing and laughing as we settled into their home.  My aunt decided that it must be the laughter of recognition: looking into the face of family and knowing there is shared DNA. Continue reading

Letter to My Daughters

Your world is entirely new.

It’s not the same place it was before death entered your life and your home.  Not only do seasons change the landscape, but familiar landmarks come and go.

How you connect with the place around you has changed, which also changes the place itself.

Dear Iris and Nelle,

You never got to see all of the beautiful things that the world has to offer.  You were robbed of that, just like I was robbed of you.

The landscape feels desolate now.  It feels cold.  Nelle – you left me as we were headed into Fall and the leaves began to change. Iris – you left me in the chill of winter.  It is hard to know at this point whether spring with thaw me or not.  Flowers have just started to peek out of the deadened earth.

I don’t know where I would take you in this changed world because I feel lost.  What were my favorite places and who were my favorite people?  I struggle to remember.  The world now has a lot of hostility.  The people around me are faceless; their outlines blurred.  When they reach out, I am never sure if it will be in comfort or sharpness.  Or obliviousness.  Familiar places now feel foreign, like I don’t quite belong.

Our household is incomplete, without you here.

I know where I would take you… I would take you to the coulee.  The coulee where I grew up and that still soothes me.  Coulee, referring to a valley, comes from a French word meaning “to flow.”

We would all go there.  We would sit beneath the sheltering tree where we have scattered your ashes.  Last time, we went by ourselves, just your parents, to be alone with our grief.  I sat and sobbed into the crisp wind until I couldn’t cry anymore.  The sky was wide above us.  This time, we would bring your brothers, so the four of you could sit on the warm earth together. Because we are moving into spring, the day would be warm.  Your brothers ask about you sometimes, so I would like to give you a chance to get to know each other.

Then I would give you both hugs, because it is just a visit after all.  You can’t stay with me, no matter how much I want it.

Eventually the unfamiliar will become familiar in this changed world.  Eventually people and places will come back into focus.

For now, there is the tree. Gentle.  Encompassing.  Standing tall throughout the changing seasons.  Guardian over your ashes. Always.

I love you both.