Love is stronger than death. The bond between a parent and child never ends. We grieve, and it hurts like Hell. It feels as if we have died, yet we are still living. Broken and brittle and left never the same. But, we grieve because we love. And that love, it always carries on. My son taught me this. A dead tree stump reminded me once again.
I have said all of this for years. I believe it with every fiber of my being. But, that does not take away the fact that some days are still very hard and that time can move unimaginably slow and yet so fast simultaneously. The milestones loom and the gaping hole is felt again. We always know who is missing and can always imagine what things should be like. It has been over 5 years but if I close my eyes I can feel the pain, the disbelief, the shock, the tsunami of grief knocking me down all over again. But, when I open my eyes, I can also feel joy and see light and beauty, I can laugh and I can feel the waves of love enveloping me. The journey of grief is raw and painful, but it is a journey of love.
My office is in the downtown area of a busy metropolitan city. Traffic and sirens surround the building and concrete is the primary surface. I find great peace near the ocean and great beauty in parks. Sunrises and sunsets make me pause in the midst of the chaos and find beauty in the midst of the mess. But, downtown, there are a lot of cars and parking meters, office buildings and restaurants. It is a place of doing and not necessarily being. A place of rushing, not a place of pause.
One day I was feeling particularly anxious but had no time to take a few moments to find peace. I was hurrying out of the building on my way to my car to go lead a retreat for parents whose children had died. My mind had been full of flashbacks to the stillbirth of my son, my heart ached for the families I was about to spend the weekend with, I hoped that the time would be meaningful and filled with love but I just felt out of sorts. My head was down as I rushed to the car hoping not to be late when something caught my eye. In the corner of a building where the grass had died long ago and dirt drifted in the wind I saw a tree stump. It was dead. But as I continued to my car what caught my eye made me stop and go back.
The tree had been cut down years ago. The bark was hard and brittle. I had never noticed it before even though I had passed it hundreds of times. The remarkable thing about this dead stump was what was within it. It was a heart. A perfectly shaped heart. At first ,I thought someone with too much time on their hands must have carved the heart out, but at closer look the entire trunk was heart shaped. I smiled. The anxiety that had been weighing on my soul disappeared.
In the midst of a dead, brittle, old, weathered by time and the elements tree stump was a symbol of love. Love that does not end. Love that is within us. Love that carries on.
Recently a piece of artwork entitled “Melancholy” by Albert György has been shared across social media as a depiction of grief and the emptiness that it brings to one’s self. The hanging head, the gaping hole, the exhausted spirt, the disappointment and yearning for more time, more memories, more everything. The steel that makes up the body seems to represent the strength that it takes to carry on each day even when we do not feel like it or even want to. The sculpture is pain and beauty, grief and love interwoven and fused together.
Love. A force stronger than death itself. Love. Lifegiving and soul-crushing. If we love, we will grieve. We grieve because we love. The sculpture has a hole in the center. The dead tree stump has a hole in the center. What I found in the tree stump that day was for me a sign of eternal love. Love that has somehow allowed me to lift my head and see the beauty that is still around me. Love that has given me the gift of seeing how a little boy who I never was able to take home from the hospital and parent the way I dreamed can still make an impact not just on me but on this world. Love that, although the edges are brittle and rough and the hole is ever-present, fills the emptiness with a drive and belief that now I must live for both of us. Love.
Related: What Love Can Do
Love is not all sunshine and roses. It is mountaintops and valleys and all the journeys between. It is life and death all intertwined. It is eternal. It is yours and it is your child’s. It is what you will always share. They are yours and you are theirs. Forever.
Who knew that a dead tree stump in the middle of downtown Fort Worth, Texas, could remind me that their love always, always, carries on.
Photo by: Albert György