For many years, my mom and I would go to Lakewood Cemetery and visit the grave sites of my grandma and grandpa and then Hubert Humphrey because he’s buried very close to them. Then we would go visit the site for my mom’s longtime friend Darlene who died many years ago now on my birthday.
Last year was our last year doing that, at least on Memorial Day, because my mom doesn’t really remember any of them and it’s getting more difficult to bring her places because of her Alzheimer’s.
This year I didn’t really have plans to visit a grave site, until about mid-day when I realized I wanted to go visit Chris’s tree. It still seems so strange to me that we go visit a tree and that’s really the only physical grave marker for him. Unless you count the Mississippi River, which I do. I think of those mighty waters first carrying his body, then his corpse and then his ashes.
So sometimes I feel this compulsion to be near to the river, or now the tree. I almost ran out of my house and down to the Bohemian Flats. And the nearer I got, the more I cried.
People have told me many times that they admire my strength. And again, I say, I am not strong. Not in the least. This is a pain and suffering I feel to my very core. I go on because, well, because I have to. This probably sounds terrible, and to be honest, it feels pretty terrible. It’s heavy. It weighs me down and it weighs down the people who are supporting me and people who knew and loved Chris, and it even weighs heavy on people who haven’t even met us. They say it takes a village to raise a child. Well, death becomes ever so more bearable with a village surrounding us, too.
But this brings me to my knees. I wanted to share in pictures a little of my experience today. People tell me that sometimes my writing helps them in some way. I don’t understand this at all, but my writing helps me in the way my visit to Chris’s tree helped me today.
When I got to the Bohemian Flats, I almost sprinted to the tree. Well, not exactly, because I had high-heeled boots on because I forgot to change into my more sensible shoes. A gentleman greeted me along the way, but I could barely manage a grunt in response.
I got to the tree and I knelt and I wept. Out loud weeping. Body shaking weeping. And this was basically my view. And it was kinda nice to see the flowers around the base of the tree from our visit on Saturday. And it was nice to have something to touch. And it’s still really hard to believe that the ashes at the base of this tree and the little bit of ashes we saved are all that’s physically left of my beautiful, beautiful child.
And after some time, I just needed to lie down. And by then the sun decided to shine on us. And as I looked up at the tree, I began to calm down some. And I could hear birds singing. And since this happened, there are very few things that sound good in my ears, but the birds chirping is one. And I was still crying, but the tears just rolled down my face and I sort of talked in my head to the leaves as they were blowing in the wind.
And then finally, after even more time, I could sit up and look out to the school that he loved. And the river that took him from us. And be present in the place where we were gathered when they told me they had found him. And I was still crying. But just a little. And I started to feel just a little peace. Just a little.
And finally, once again, I had the strength to stand up. And look at this lovely tree straight on and at the river in the background. And breathe.
And then I walked down to say good-bye to the river. To tell Chris how much I love him and how much I will always love him. And to continue this journey without my child and still wonder how that is possible, but knowing that somehow it is. And instead of saying good-bye, I guess, saying hasta luego. I’ll see you every day in my thoughts, and someday in my dreams and you will always be in my thoughts until that day when we meet again.
And finally, though I’ve shared this poem before, I will share it again. It is the poem from which the words on Chris’s memorial medallion are taken. As I write, I find myself going through much the same journey that I did when I went to visit his tree today. There’s just a little peace that comes from writing. A little peace that comes from visiting these markers. And a little peace that comes from releasing these tears that carry the prayers I find so difficult to pray these days. Peace.