The Ash Tree, or: Damn You, Emerald Ash Borer

You were the one who reconciled me to Fall.

Your summer leaves were always too high for me to reach, even when we both were young. You were the first to have them and the first to lose them, budding them out every year ahead of the others, shaking them off in a sudden day’s decision before the rest. “Well, I’m done,” you seemed to say, in a massive shrug.

But when summer changed to fall, you became the perfect Halloween tree I could just see from my west window, those pure yellow leaves swirling past and fetching up against my screen (always the old window in my memory), bringing with them that delectable scent and scene of raking, lamplight, and cozy jackets.

You were the final encampment my wagon of stuffed animals and dishes trundled its weary pioneer way to across the yard, mysterious side yard all silent with only you standing sentinel, perhaps chuckling a little at this fancy.

Through the years, I always made sure to visit you, slightly out of the way though you were, just around the corner of the house and banded on two sides by an old chain-link fence. Over time, cross little evergreens had appeared, making my path to you both perilous and uneven.

But you still stood there as strong as ever. Perhaps a little bent over by the years; perhaps we all were. And always easy to hug.

It’s not even summer yet and we’ve been told that you won’t live another year. We tried to save you. Now we have to watch you go.

Spring has barely come and I don’t know if I’ll see you bloom again before you are taken down, but I’ve got my old pictures to dig through and remember, and today we took more, starkly outlined though they are, pointing our lens all the way up to capture what we could.

And you too will be in my dreams the way they all are, all the old trees made young again, climbing branches and shade returned, sweet ache inside the dream and inescapable longing outside.

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My green ash tree.

When Someone You Love Is Dying

My father-in-law died a couple weeks ago, and I think we’re still not quite believing it.

The hospice, the funeral, the boxing up of stuff and all the paperwork make this an incontrovertible experience.

It’s all the other stuff that doesn’t make sense.

How could this person who used to laugh, love, think, and feel just no longer BE here? In our hearts, yes, but as someone to see and talk with in front of our eyes, no.

Well. I’m not actually going to tackle life and death today. There was just something I wanted to pass along.

Where I work, we’re big on nonverbals. Big. How you move, how you stand, and where you place your hands can all make a difference in your care of someone.

We also pay attention to tone. How you say something can be even more important than what you say, especially if the person you’re talking to is distracted or otherwise can’t focus on or hear the actual words.

It’s not always easy to think about these things when it’s happening to you.

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This lovely light is from toobstock.

So when my husband was concerned that his father might not even know that his wife or any of his sons were there at his hospice bed, I said, “Put your hand on his hand. Talk to him as you normally would, and use reassuring words such as ‘You’re going to a good place,’ ‘It’s okay to let go,’ and most importantly, ‘I love you.’ Say it even if you think he doesn’t hear. He’ll feel it all the same.”

I don’t think I have any great insight into these matters. I just wanted everyone to feel comforted. And I’ve seen over and over again what the power of touch alone can do.

So they did. They each held his hand. They each spoke the words they wanted to say.

And he responded.

Although he was drifting further and further into what we hoped was a soothing fog and hadn’t opened his eyes, when each of the sons held his hand and said, “I love you,” he said, “I love you, too.”

And when his wife of 60 years bent over him to kiss him, he responded the way he had for those 60 years, with their very special kisses: Three in a row.

He died three days later without coming back out of his twilight sleep.

When they played Taps at his funeral, it seemed like the saddest song in the world, but I held on to that memory of those last goodbyes.

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If you’d like, please share moments you’ve had with loved ones.