Having studied the “grieving process” I'm aware of the different stages of grief, which hopefully leads to the acceptance of the loss of a loved one, but academic knowledge does little to ease the shock or reduce the pain. It does nothing to answer the questions that spring into your mind, that do not seem to have any concrete answers, like, “Why did my mother die in such horrid circumstances, and why did my father outlive her for so long?”
My father took five days to die, and being as devout Christian it seemed rather apt that he died on Good Friday, and as we are left hanging in that empty space before the finality of a funeral, I'm aware that my ability to think coherely seems grossly impaired. All the well-meaning platitudes uttered by those who feel awkward and do not know what to say are just sharp reminders that my father has gone, and I just want to hibernate so that I do not have to make the monumental effort of trying to make others feel less awkward.
So sitting on my bed, trying to reign in my scarted thoughts and make sense of life and death, I remembered a time in my life when I was forced to think about it and found comfort in this story. Its main message is that the secret of getting through grief is to be able to find somewhere in your mind where you can smile at your memories of the ones you have lost, for you have not really lost them. Those we love live in our hearts and in our memories, so you can still feel the love you shared just by thinking about them and enjoying your memories.
Far, far away in the land that bobbed in and out of view depending upon the sea mist, deep within the forest lived a woodcutter. All his life he had lived in the forest and had learned from his father the ways of the trees. As a boy he sent from dawn to dusk with his father who showed him how to tend the young saplings. and as he grows older the young trees grow into fine, strong, upright boughs that soared upwards to reach the sun.
When the trees had grown tall, he learned from his father how to fall the trees to make a house and to carve fine furniture, but always they replanted fresh young saplings to replace the trees they cut down. The woodcutter learned to respect the trees for their beauty and for the livelihood they offered. His father also taught him to grow and tend vines, and he marveled at how different each one was. There was ivy growing all over their wooden house and grapevines growing in rows benefit the hot sun. He learned to pick the ripe fruit from the vines, and as the sun went down, his father would laugh as he dropped off his socks and began to stomp on the fruit until it was ready to make into wine. Life was good for the young woodcutter and his father.
One day when they were deep within the forest, a storm came upon them and darkness fell. The young woodcutter was not afraid as he followed his father, but in the dim light they lost their way. “Where are we?” he asked his father, but the old man looked uncertain. “It must be this way,” he said, plowing through the branches in the dimness. But as the forest became thicker and the darkness grew, his father said, “Let's rest here until the clouds pass.”
When the light returned, they stood up and brushed the leaves from their clothes.
“Let's go this way,” the old man said, but they had strayed so far from the paths they knew that they became even more lost – until they saw a shaft of light ahead.
As they made their way towards the light, the young woodcutter gasped in awe. They had stumbled into a circular clearing that was surrounded by tall trees, and each was covered in a vine with lilac flowers hanging all around them that shade in the sunlight like beautiful, pointed lanterns.
“What is it?” the woodcutter asked his father.
“I've heard of this place,” he claimed. “It's the sacred circle. It's the place where the ancients came to pray for those who had loved and lost. Those who came here were wistful.”
“What's wistful?” his son asked.
“Those who were wistful were full of sadness and longing. They were melancholy and borne for their pain to go away, so the gods of the trees gave the mere mortals a gift, something to remind them of the beauty in those people they had loved and lost. The gods of the trees called this beautiful vine 'Wisteria' after those who came to this sacred place feeling wistful but who left with their spirit gladdened by the beauty before them. ”
The young woodcutter and his father made their way home in the light, and the image of the sacred circle stayed in the young woodcutter's memories and in his dreams as he grew into a man.
Years later when he had become a man, his father died, and in his loneliness he bought a wife. He cleaned his little wooden house and made new furniture from the trees he cut down. When his daughter was born he felt that his life was complete and that the gods of the trees were smiling upon him.
As soon as his daughter could walk, he showed her how to plant saplings and, as she grew, he taught her everything his father had taught him about the trees in the forest. She loved the trees as he had, and like his father before him. They lived in perfect harmony in the forest, and they knew peace.
As her fifth birthday near, her father declared that she was old enough to tend her own little garden, and he pegged out a small plot of land in front of their little wooden house. He stood with a sapling in each hand, smiling at her. “You are old enough to take care of your own trees. Here, plant these, and every day you have to tend to them and you will enjoy them.” He helped her to dig two deep holes, and as she scooped the earth back over the roots of the trees, he smiled. She stood by each tree twice a day with a watering can that was almost as big as her, spraying drops of water onto the two little trees. They grew and flourished, and she was so excited when bright green leaves sprouted from their branches.
As they grew, so did she, and she was as happy as any small child could be, and the woodcutter's heart was full. One day, however, disease came upon the woodcutter's family and his daughter's trees. He volunteered to save his wife, but she was destined to live with the gods of the trees, and so she died.
A vicious storm settled over the forest and the wind hinds, yet its howling was drowned by the wailing of the woodcutter and his daughter, whose pain was immeasurable. In the morning after the storm had passed, the woodcutter's daughter ventured out into the garden to tend to her two trees with a heavy heart.
As she made her way down the garden path, her father heard her cry, “Nooooooo!” He rushed out to find her, forgetting to put his boots on, such was the agony in her voice. He stood by her side, and tears poured down her face as she stood before one of her trees, its leaves dead and shriveled.
“How can this have happened?” she sobbed. “I've treated both trees the same. Why would one tree live and the other die?” The pain in his heart was unbearable, and her question echoed his own lament, “Why was he still alive when his wife was not? It made no sense.” He did not know how to answer his grave-stricken daughter.
She fell into a deep depression, one where she was seated in sadness and longing, where she was steeped in melancholy and borne for her pain to go away. As she sat starring at the withered dead tree, pain lodged in her heart. She longed for her mother and she longed for her tree, and she could not understand the loss of either.
The woodcutter did not know what to do. He wrung his hands and busied him deep within the forest, tending to his trees and hacking off dead branches. He burned the logs on the fire at night in an attempt to keep his daughter and himself warm from the chilling grief that gripped their hearts. But no matter how many logs he put on the fire in their simple wooden house, their grief chilled them to the bone and they could find no comfort. He despairs at the loneliness he saw in his beautiful daughter's face as she missed her mother and lamented over the death of her tree. She berated herself, asking what she had done wrong; why had the gods of the trees taken her mother, and why had she married her tree when she had tended them both? She was without answers and the pain in her heart grew. The woodcutter watched in despair as his daughter slipped further away from him, grief stricken.
One morning as she sat beneeth the withered tree, ignoring the one that was flourishing, the pain in his heart was so terrible that he could not bear to watch her, so he set off into the forest. He wandered without destination – his only purpose was to get away from his own pain and hopelessness – when suddenly he was drawn to shafts of light ahead of him. He stumbled forward, a memory deep within him stirring. And there, all around him, was the sacred circle where those who were lost in grief came, the place he had discovered with his father all those years ago. The woodcutter fell to the forest floor and sobbed, praying for guidance from the gods of the trees, as he sacrificed for his father, his wife and his daughter. His cries echoed around the sacred circle, and the beautiful pointed lilac lanterns shimmered in the sunlight. As his cries subsided, a faltering peace came upon him.
A voice deep inside him said, “I remember this. My memory of this place is wonderful and has never left me. , and when I think of them it's as if he's still with me and nothing can take that away from me. ” He sat in the sacred circle surrounded by the shimmering pointed lilac lanterns, his memories alive in his mind, and as peace settled over him, he knew that nothing could take his father and wife away from him while their memories remained in his heart.
Suddenly, as if the gods of the trees had spoken to him, he jumped up, and with a prayer on his lips he cut three branches from the Wisteria that draped itself over the forest trees around the sacred circle like Christmas ornaments. He hurried home through the fading light and did not stop until he reached the little wooden house deep within the forest. There he found his daughter, her eyes still red from weeping, and he grabbed her hand.
'”Come with me,” he urged, and ignored her despondency, tugging on her sleeve. She followed him outside into her little garden where the one tree flourished and the other had withered for no reason, and she watched her father. His excitation was infectious as he began to dig furiously at the soil surrounding the withered tree. She did not understand but drew closer anyway, her curiosity ignored. The woodcutter did not stop digging until he was satisfied, and only then did he fall back onto the grass and let out a sigh of satisfaction. His daughter did not understand, and she was not sure how to react. Part of her wanted to shout and be angry, to continue to be angry with the one person who truly knew her pain and who love was strong enough to withstand her raging, but another part of her was intrigued.
'”What are you doing?” she asked, her voice tinged with irritation and anger, for she was being drawn towards understanding, a place that she was not ready to inhabit, yet her father seemed insistent that she should learn.
'”It's hard to be faced with death all the time. You spend far more time with your dead tree than with the one that's living and flourishing. barren, naked, withered tree, one that died for no reason that you or I can see. heart, and so I know what to do. ”
The little girl wiped her nose on her sleeve, sniffed, but listened to her father. “I have been to the Sacred Circle and have been given a gift, the gift of memories and peace.” He planted the Wisteria vines in the hole around the conceded, dead tree and patted down the earth. “We have to focus upon our memories of the ones we have lost, for they have never really left us if we have memories of them. . ”
The woodcutter's daughter directed her eyes and listened to her father. “The Wisteria will remind us to focus upon our memories of the ones we've lost rather than their absence.” He stood up and went to bed, his heart lighter than it had been since the day his wife died. His daughter followed him with doubt in her heart.
Two difficult years passed, but on the anniversary of her mother's death and the withering of her tree, the woodcutter's daughter stood in her little garden and smiled. There in front of her, covering every part of the dead and withered tree, was thick green foliage. The Wisteria, that represented the memories of those who had loved and lost, had entwined its way around the dead tree and had welcomed it “alive” again so that she could still enjoy the tree. The woodcutter and his daughter smiled at each other, for even though each knew that the tree was dead, that his wife and her mother was dead, so they kept in their memories, which kept her “alive.”
Years later, no one would have guessed that the second tree had died, for the Wisteria occupied every part of its authorized branches. People came from far and wide to see the exquisite pointed lilac lantern-shaped blooms that depict the memories of the ones they had loved and lost. The woodcutter and his daughter found peace in their trees, garden and vines, but none offered the same peace that they found by watching the Wisteria, their memories bringing alive the dead and withered tree before them. They learned that, although their loved ones had collectively suffered and died, the memories kept them alive in their hearts, just as the Wisteria had brought to life the barren, dead branches of the tree that had for some unknown reason failed to live. '
So as I sit quietly waiting for my thoughts to settle and the pain in my heart to ease, I shall focus on all the memories I have of both my mother and father rather than focusing on their absence and the questions about life and death that can 't be answered.