But it was just a tree.
Or it might have been just a pet. Or a cup. Or someone you didn’t even know that well. Why do these losses sometimes crack us open so deeply?
If Leonard Cohen, Canadian poet and songwriter, had heard the crack of the plum tree’s trunk as the wind took her down, he may have said this:
I’m beginning to understand how my reluctance to accept the cracks of life has contributed to a lot of suffering. Not pain – pain is inevitable. But suffering – I’m learning that’s optional.
Seems to me when I try to jump the cracks in life, I disconnect from the entire experience of living: The joyful, magical, complex, messy and magical lift of life itself.
The thing is, I want the obvious, predictable living part, but I’m not so open to the behind-the-scenes, unexpected dying part. But in my effort to side-step loss, I must say “no” to opportunities for joy. I don’t think I’m alone in this.
We say no to the puppy, even when our nightly prayers are for companionship. We don’t visit a dying parent, despite our need for resolution. We don’t plant a tree, because they all seem to be burning anyway and we don’t volunteer at the animal shelter because we will “just get attached.” We fall into the habit of saying “I can’t take one more loss” and this becomes our truth.
When I was at my most unwell, I was quite unable to say yes to life, and I see how it was also a time of great disconnection from Nature. I no longer think this is a coincidence.
I refused to have living things in my home. It was painful to be with people, and I refused a cat or a dog. I even rejected a cactus, when suggested as a “safe place to start” by a caring therapist. Between the fear of killing something and the knowledge it would eventually die anyway, I had love-paralysis. No way, Jose. I wasn’t going to play that game. I was pretty sure I was playing with cheaters.
This week someone asked me how I began to heal. Truly, it was Nature who laid out my wellness plan. Nature gave me place to understand “death” as change, rather than loss. She also gave me a safe place to practice letting go of my “perfect offering” and to stop imagining I was in control all the time.
Mother Plum was so important to me because she was my first teacher at the farm. These are the lessons she gave, even as she was transitioning.
Attend to the Death. I picked the plums, even though I didn’t want to look at the tree. It was hard to feel the plums clinging to her even as her leaves wilted. I certainly didn’t feel like making jam. But Nature asked me to stay.
Having lost my own mother at a young age (too young to understand or process the loss) I didn’t learn about recovery and healing. Harvesting the plums from the fallen plum helped me find a bit more comfort with transition – from the standing to the lying down – and to see that although she was gone, something of her remained. Nature can help us to deal with grief of the past too. She helped me see that I , too, was my Mother’s plum.
Choose an action that helps you move through the grief. I didn’t feel like making jam, but I did. It helped to engage my body – my senses – in the sadness. We didn’t have electricity because of the storm, but Indigo and I used our emergency water to prepare them. This was my emergency. Indigo was sad too, but her sadness had more buoyancy than mine. If you can find sadness buddy with just a bit more float than you, do get in their boat for a while. See that smile? It was wind in my sails.
After preparing the plums, we covered them in sugar and decided to take a break. But not before Indigo named our project.
Allow yourself joy alongside sadness. Because they are two sides of the same coin, give yourself permission to feel both, and chase away as much of the guilt we have been taught to feel when they unexpectedly show up at our front door – together.
After we prepared the plums, we went to the beach, because it’s ok to invite sadness to the beach! We can teach it to walk beside our joy instead of swallowing it. Allowing part of yourself permission to smile while another part cries gives joy a chance to remind us of important things. Like how life is not black and white. Not black or white. It is both. Don’t be afraid to laugh-cry. Laugh-crying reminds of this truth.
Lean into what scares you. Nature suggests there may not be such things as “bad guys” and “good guys.” The same wind that flies our kites, takes down our plums. The wind on the beach made us giddy, and lifted our spirits at the same time it reminded me how unpredictable life can be.
Do something helpful. While on the beach, we collected garbage that was blown onto the normally pristine shore by Dorian’s high waves. It felt good to be part of Nature’s Cleanup Crew. Cleaning helps me organize chaotic thoughts. While I clean I am reminded that as a part of Nature, I can be a helper, offering my energy when it is needed.
Celebrate what has changed. Nature made this easy, and we made a sweet treat with the plums. Celebrations add ritual and meaning. Meaning – the story we tell about what has happened – is so very important after a significant loss or change.
Much love was stirred into the plums as they transformed into jam. Cooking is a form of alchemy and I love being close to this magic. Because we remained without electricity, we took the plums all the way to Halifax, where we cooked them at my daughter’s house.
Share the Love. This was new learning for me. When I lose something, I tighten my grip. I imagined my pantry full of Hurricane Plum Jam, and for a moment felt better. Then I felt anxious.
What about when the jam is gone? Am I prolonging the pain? What is the point of that? I would then have to re-live this day all over again.
Faced with impermanence, I want to control something/ pretty much everything. But this is not how my healing has worked. I am learning about letting go.
We decided the jam would be given to friends and family at Winter Solstice; a way of ensuring the plum’s life was shared with others. It felt good to let go of my grip on it.
Finally, I learned about the nature of plums. Turns out they are tenacious and often grow back from their cut stumps. Turns out that in tree-magic, they represent the ability to face adversity. I learned I could collect the seeds, dry them, force dormancy, and plant them. So I prepared the seeds.
I discovered their reddish-coloured wood was valued for making kitchen utensils and a neighbour helped me to cut her branches into workable pieces for future projects. She gave me this to look forward to.
Mother Plum is what I call #gonenotgone. She will show herself in a myriad of ways; on a slice of toast at my neighbour’s kitchen table, as a shoot growing from the bottom of her stump, or maybe in a wooden spoon I make myself. I also laugh now, realizing that an alternative meaning for the word “plum” itself is “something desirable”.
Finally, I am reminded that without Mother Plum Tree I would not have a story to tell at all, and in telling her story, she will always live. What a plum lesson that is. 😉
I hope you take time to listen to the song below, written by Leon Dubinsky of Sydney Nova Scotia, performed in the highlands of Cape Breton by Canadian musicians Anne Murray, Rita McNeil, The Rankin Family and Men of the Deep.
Sometimes a good song just helps a lesson move from your head to your heart.