I stood in the shade of the 91-year-old evergreen tree, listening to its whisper. The wind sounds different here, soft and respectful of its surroundings. It shades the resting place of my great-grandmother, Eula. It is the tree she saw planted over the grave of her son when they couldn’t afford a headstone in 1927. I’ve always felt a strong connection to her, though she died before I was born. She buried her son under this whispering tree after his death at age 7, but she was a bereaved mother long before then. Her second son died just before his birth. He was whisked away immediately and she stole only a glance at his chubby cheeks and dark hair. He was never mentioned above a murmur. His exact birthdate lost with time. His grave remains unmarked. His name was Lew.
Society didn’t allow Eula to grieve the death of her 7-year-old son Riley very long and it didn’t allow her to grieve the death of her son Lew at all. But out of the public eye, she grieved, she remembered, she told their stories. Nearly 100 years later, the connection I feel to my great-grandmother is strengthened because of the legacy she passed to me, to know of her sons and what might have been. She never was ready to tell them goodbye.
Her stories were passed to me through my mother. She, too, is laid to rest under the whispering tree. The dirt still soft on her resting place, her headstone not yet set. It’s all so new. We weren’t ready. There are no graves for my mother’s children yet. The heartbreak she faced through years of infertility don’t have a resting place- she carried those memories in her heart. As she tried and tried, she was told early on that she wouldn’t be able to have children. Through tests and adoption trials, the heartbreak of various kinds enveloped my mom and dad. A loss different than Eula had faced, society still managed to determine that her grief had no place. It must be kept quiet and out of the public eye. The doctors were wrong, as humans can be sometimes. But my mom brought her grief along, teaching my sisters and I gratitude for what so many take for granted.
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Still under the shade of the tree, well within earshot of the whispers, I sit at my own daughter’s grave. She would have turned 11 this year. She died, then was born just shy of 80 years after Riley was laid to rest just up the hill from her. I got to hold her and am forever grateful for that. I knew Eula missed that chance and always wondered. I have her photographs. I have her face etched into my mind, as I knew my grandmother did of her sons. A bond she never knew she’d share with her great-granddaughter.
Whenever someone learns I have a daughter that died, they say “I’m sorry”, and my response is always “We were lucky to have had her at all.” And we were and I always knew it because my mother taught me of her losses, of her heartache, of her grief. A bond my mother shared with me. She got to hold my daughter too. The only one aside from my husband and myself to hold our tiny girl in her arms for those hours. They have been reunited now. A bond I didn’t know they’d have.
Grief is an unmistakable common denominator. Grief is universal. We rarely see it coming. Grief is an equalizer. It will bring you to your knees. Grief and love bond us on a level like nothing else on this earth. The lessons we learn from grief and the lessons we teach others from our grief offer a legacy we hope our future generations never need to understand.
Post Photos: Author’s Own