We planted a memorial tree in our yard on Austin’s first birthday in Heaven, July 8, 2009. He would’ve been 15 that year. I don’t remember what type it was but I specifically picked it because it bloomed in the summer.
The tree is planted directly in front of Austin’s bedroom window and in our line of sight when we’re in our favorite spot on the deck. Each time we are outside, no matter the season, it reminds us of him.
That first year we babied it, caring for the tree in hopes that it would grow and bloom in time for his next birthday. I prayed over that little tree, asking God to let it grow. I’d hoped it would bring us a bit of peace in the cloud of grief we were in. As always with Austin, it’s surprised us and exceeded our expectations in so many ways.
That next summer, our family gathered in the backyard, on what would’ve been Austin’s 16th birthday. The tree had grown several feet and was in full, glorious bloom. Bursting with vibrant red leaves and tiny white flowers, it was breath-taking and gave each of us such a lovely connection to Austin. The blooms came in perfect timing and seemed to be his hello gift to us.
I later moved my office into his old bedroom, with my desk overlooking the backyard and his tree. One February, I sat mesmerized by the beauty of the tree covered with ice crystals in the snow. Light danced across the branches, glistening like tiny diamonds. Watching the tree, even in the winter, filled me with peace.
But heavy winters had me fearing each season they’d be too much for our tree to keep growing. My heart was heavy at the thought of losing that little tree. My lack of faith, I began contemplating how I could replace it with something that would lessen the pain come his birthday. But yearly, God reminded us of Austin’s life anew with Him, as it continued to bloom, always around his birthday.
One season, instead of a hard winter, we had a horrendous summer. In fact, we really didn’t have a spring at all. Record temperatures and a solid two weeks of a heat wave, caused me to worry again about our tree. But, like always, that determined tree grew around the decay and shot higher, just in time for July. Rain came the week of his 18th birthday and again, flowing blooms to greet us hello.
And one year the tree actually did die. The weather had been tough and it seemed to shrink each month instead of grow. Just at the point we discussed cutting it down, we noticed that growing off the dead tree was a sprout of new life. A new tree was growing off the old one! It began to shoot up so quickly, it leaned to the side for lack of space from the dead branches. The tree was such a visible example of two lives, one finished and one new.
While we weren’t given the brilliant display as most summers, the tree presented us with a beautiful gift for his birthday. As this tree was planted in his memory, seeing the new life form directly from the dying branches was so touching to us. It was a perfect example of the new life our sweet boy has in Heaven.
Eight years later, the tree has caught up, even from rebirth, and continues to give us beautiful blooms, bursting forth the first week of July, just in time for Austin’s birthday.
Heather Blair | Still Standing Magazine