There is a beautiful poem by Maya Angelou−−“When Great Trees Fall.” It describes in the most eloquent words the feelings of loss, and eventual healing. But Ms. Angelou’s poem isn’t about just any loss. It’s about the loss of someone who stood at the height of the precipice; someone who captured so much of our lives that being in their presence was as if standing next to a giant tree; someone whose absence, like that tree fallen to the forest floor, leaves a gaping hole in the landscape of our lives. Someone who was our big tree!
Who is your big tree? Mine was my dad. He was someone who nurtured me as I branched out, grew and thrived.
Immense, beautiful, powerful and protective—words often used to describe big trees in nature—also are terms to portray an extraordinary person like my father. Yet words alone could never fully describe what was so meaningful about him. Just the fact that he was, and is now in spirit—is enough. For not in words was he fully known, but rather in his essence, gentleness, patience and love.
He lived his life in a complex world, full of his own struggles, successes and aspirations. And when he died, as grand as he was, I realized how truly human he also was. But despite his human nature, he taught me so much about life. Like the massive Douglas-firs or hemlocks, who live alongside the verdant array of soils, small trees, ferns and fungi to flourish, my dad’s lessons unfolded in the many ways he loved and cared for an array of people.
And through his caring for others and selflessness, he pulled love into himself, as a tree pulls moisture upwards from its roots to its crown.
When the big trees fall, the sky will not suddenly be filled with other trees. Just as my life without my dad will never be quite the same.
Perhaps I will learn to look at the new landscape—and move forward—even finding a touch of beauty. For now, I remain in the forest, left only with memories, sadness, and yes— blessedly, hope! And as I stand in the gaping hole, rays of light stream down from the place where my big tree once stood. The sun warms my skin, a delicate breeze blows, and I know my big tree is now whole, and standing tall once again—planted in heaven’s garden.