Friday, March 2, 2018—Episode 17--Our Maple Tree

Grief is a thin place. A place so thin, it’s hard to tell where earth ends and heaven begins.

Grief is a place so thin that it’s where the living and the dead feel one another’s love.

I’m the Rev. Lisa Hamilton, and I grieve. First, I’ll read a scripture appointed for today. Then I’ll struggle with those words through the lens of grief. I’m glad you’ve joined me. Today’s scripture is Genesis, chapter 37, verses three to four and 12 to 28:

Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he had made him a long robe with sleeves. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him.

Now his brothers went to pasture their father's flock near Shechem. And Israel said to Joseph, "Are not your brothers pasturing the flock at Shechem? Come, I will send you to them." He answered, "Here I am." So he said to him, "Go now, see if it is well with your brothers and with the flock; and bring word back to me." So he sent him from the valley of Hebron.

He came to Shechem, and a man found him wandering in the fields; the man asked him, "What are you seeking?" "I am seeking my brothers," he said; "tell me, please, where they are pasturing the flock." The man said, "They have gone away, for I heard them say, `Let us go to Dothan.'" So Joseph went after his brothers, and found them at Dothan. They saw him from a distance, and before he came near to them, they conspired to kill him. They said to one another, "Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; then we shall say that a wild animal has devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams." But when Reuben heard it, he delivered him out of their hands, saying, "Let us not take his life." Reuben said to them, "Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but lay no hand on him" -- that he might rescue him out of their hand and restore him to his father. So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the long robe with sleeves that he wore; and they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it.

Then they sat down to eat; and looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels carrying gum, balm, and resin, on their way to carry it down to Egypt. Then Judah said to his brothers, "What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh." And his brothers agreed. When some Midianite traders passed by, they drew Joseph up, lifting him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt.

 

Joseph’s story doesn’t really start until he moves. Granted, it’s not a move he wants to make, going to Egypt as a slave, but nevertheless, it gets him out of the pit where he didn’t even have water.

Like a lot of people who grieve, I moved in the aftermath of my first husband’s death. I hoped the friends understood when I explained that I couldn’t imagine a future for our child and me as a family of two except by imagining it in a new place.

 

Grief had already taken me to a new place emotionally. It seems that the only choice grief gives us is to treat it as a diagnosis to be cured or to recognize grief as a place of change. I no longer recognized my life, or even myself as I rode an ever changing emotional roller coaster with inclines that sometimes frightened me. Scott died June 8, 1991, and all this time later, I still can’t articulate all the ways grief for him has changed me, and still does. But I know that the experience of cancer with him and losing and loving him is the most formative of my life.

The day Teddy and I drove away from the only home he had ever known, the only house I had ever owned, I was bowed down by guilt. His dad, Scott, and I had loved Pittsburgh, where we had moved knowing only each other. We claimed its hills and rivers, its baseball team and its symphony, its friendly ways and just-right-size as our own. Was I being disloyal to leave for a city we’d never visited?

And what of Teddy? He had done beautifully his first year of preschool. He liked the toy moving van I bought him to play with, but he didn’t like the for sale sign in the front yard, and every chance he got, he tried to pull it out of the ground. Was I uprooting him for good or for ill?

Teddy was barely two when his Dada died, but he understood that his dad had planted the young maple tree in our front yard when were expecting him. Scott died in June, and so we saw the leaves turn colors and fall, then the bare branches covered with ice and snow, then with buds, then with leaves again before we moved.

One afternoon as Teddy napped shortly before we moved, I plucked three leaves from the tree. I placed them in a picture frame and when we moved, I hung it in Teddy’s room. I hoped the framed leaves would somehow remind him of his dad’s love, even though we had moved across states, and even though his dad had moved across eternity.

I couldn’t have known then that Ted would have a maple leaf with Scott’s initials in it tattooed on his shoulder the day he turned 18. Ted knew my opinions about tattoos, but once he turned 18, he no longer needed my permission for a legal tattoo. I had no idea what kind of a tattoo he was planning, but when he showed it to me, I burst into tears. “I just wanted to be sure I wouldn’t forget him, Mom.”

Now Teddy is gone too, somehow, I hope, united with the dad he was afraid of forgetting. Their ashes are side by side, and while I’ve never thought of having a tattoo, I remember them with the ink of my heart.

Grief is a thin place.