A beautiful pine tree, slowly dying, stood in our front yard. Realizing we would lose the tree brought sadness. My daughters enjoyed sitting on its low branches, especially when watching for their grandparents to arrive. It was their waiting place.
My eight-year-old daughter knew the tree was going to be cut down. Still, when the day came, it was tough on her. A few minutes before we needed to leave for school, she went to the tree for a last good-bye. Crying and grasping the brown needles, she did not want to leave the tree. I prayed and wondered what to do. Do I force her to leave so she can get to school? Do I encourage her to make it a quick good-bye—like ripping off a bandage? A voice inside me, counseled by my own grief, advised, “Let her say good-bye. Give her time.” I did not rush her. I let her spend what ended up being an hour saying good-bye.
During this time, a lot went through my head and heart as I watched her cry, knowing she would not see the tree again. I wanted to call the tree people and tell them that we had changed our minds. We were not going to cut it down. At least not now. That would make her happy. I also knew it would only postpone the grief. Furthermore, I knew it did not set a good example: we sometimes just have to go forward through the pain.
I could have them only cut part of it down. Saving the branch and stump would allow her to sit in her “waiting place.” But I knew it would not be the same. So I let her cry.
She started to pick up needles, pinecones, and little branches and began stuffing them in her pockets. She wanted to keep part of the tree with her. I found a box and told her she could put them in there. She emptied her pockets into the box and a few tears fell in, too. She picked up more sticks to add to her treasure. Eventually she got to where she was ready to go—as ready as she could be.
I thought about future grief my daughter would experience in life. I don’t know when or who or how she will grieve, but I know it will come. I wish I could stop it. I wish I could call Death and tell him not to bother my little girls and their loved ones. But that won’t happen, so I try to teach them about grief. I try to let them know that it is all right to cry. It is important to take time to grieve.
Recently, I came across that box full of pinecones and little sticks. A few years later, my daughter is fine. She misses the tree but does not grieve for it. I could get rid of that box of sticks, but I don’t. I keep it, not for her, but for me. It reminds me that my children will grieve harder things in life and that I cannot stop the loss or the tears. I will not be able to hand them a box to carry the pain, but I can be there to hold their hands and hearts.
Nancy Berns is the author of Closure: The Rush to End Grief and What It Costs Us.