An altered landscape

GovNelPrairieThere are a lot of things you are forced to accept when someone dies.

One of the more confounding things is that other people will mourn differently. Most of them in their own quiet way, not able to share their experience of the loss with you. Perhaps because they are afraid to, or they don’t know how. When we grieve, we learn about ourselves. Though grief is brought on by the loss of someone else, when you are thrust into grief, you spend a lot of time trying to comprehend your own reaction to it.

There is a park that I drive past often, my husband and I used to run there, we’d take the dog to the lake, we’d photograph prairie plants. It’s a vast park with woodland and prairie trails, and it lies along a scenic, but busy country highway.

I remember several years ago noticing a dead tree that stood on its own, near the road. It punctuated the top of the hill as you drove past the park, it was such a lovely silhouette. I told my husband that I wanted to photograph it. It was one of those things you say, but never do. It would have been hard to photograph, it would have to be done from the road, there wasn’t really a good place to stop, it was dangerous, last year a cyclist was hit and killed. And really, I have always thought, not everything has to become a photo, right? Some things should just be experienced.

Well, one day we came over the crest of the hill and the tree was gone. It had crumbled, or fallen, perhaps taken down in a storm. As we zipped past (going at least 55mph, as is the posted speed limit), I could see the remnants, how the tree had fallen, on its natural way to decomposition. On this busy commuter road, probably no other soul even noticed. But I have often wondered, did anyone else notice?

I noticed. Every time I drove past the park, it bothered me! I mourned it, the old landscape. The striking view, that was once worthy of a snapshot, had lost its star performer. This singular element gave the whole scene meaning, tied everything together. Like my life. My marriage, my partnership. The Fred, of Fred and Ginger, gone.

That is one of my greatest anxieties now. The worry, and frustration, that I am the only one who remembers there was once a beautiful and unique tree, completing the hillside, completing the picture of our life. The other commuters continue on, busy with their lives, too consumed with their own comfort to stop and take note of a landscape forever changed. But that is an assumption. And I hope it’s wrong.

I know he wasn’t “everything” to “everyone”. But he was everything to me. And his death has altered me, my view, and viewpoint. And even though I have slowly gotten used to the landscape at the park, I have accepted its softer silhouette, I will never be able to look at it without feeling the absence of the tree, without missing what once was.

And those who knew him, I can only hope that they too will remember him, that he will forever be a part of the landscape of their lives, even in his absence. They probably don’t realize that every time they mention him, or mention their grief, it’s a treasure to me, it helps diffuse the burden, the weight, the worry that I am the only one working on the scrapbook, desperately trying to keep the pieces together, every single story, every memory, like dots of ink on paper, building to create the complete picture, a snapshot of a life once lived.

4 thoughts on “An altered landscape

  1. You’ve done your usual brilliant job of taking a difficult, complex topic and expressing it clearly and simply. It’s painful to watch the imprint of someone slowly fade away. It’s lonely to feel that you are the “keeper of the flame” when it seems everyone else has moved on. It’s frightening to contemplate that someone so seminal in your life, who still is, is becoming invisible. I think we all struggle with this.

  2. Wonderful essay! I, too, have worried that people will forget my husband and even that my own memories will fade too much. Writing helps……

  3. What a beautiful metaphor.
    Beauty is such a personal preference and in a way, the fewer people appreciate what you may find starkly beautiful (e.g. a dead tree is not everyone’s preference) keeps it treasured for you. If everyone loved that same tree with the same intensity, would it be as unique? Perhaps it would detract from how special it was to you, your sense of ownership of that beauty?
    Not to say in any way that your husband is not remembered by others (I am certain he is, although they may not always feel it appropriate to mention, or the memories come at times when you are not there to share them with) but he will always be profoundly unique and special to you and that is paramount.

    I worry about the memory of my mum subsiding, in mine or others’ minds’ eyes, but then I am starting to realise that time will offer up experiences where the memory and unique qualities of our deceased loved ones will flood back into the consciousness of all who loved and appreciated them.


    • Thank you for this perspective, I hadn’t thought of it that way. I like your thoughts on beauty, and on something or someone being special and beautiful to us. That in itself is something sacred, isn’t it? Wishing you well, thank you for your comment.

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