I’m going to plant a heart in the earth
water it with love from a vein
I’m going to praise it with the push of muscle
and care for it in the sound of all dimensions.
I’m going to leave a heart in the earth
so it may grow and flower
a heart that throbs with longing
that adores everything green
that will be strength and nourishment for birds
that will be the sap of plants and mountains.
– Rosaria Murillo
Today, we planted trees.
Shortly after Harvey died, we got a card in the mail that my new bosses, at the spa I’d just begun working at 3 months before, The Barefoot Sage, had donated to Friends of Trees in his name. Not too much later, we got another card from coworkers of Danny’s in San Francisco that they had also donated to this organization in memory of Harvey. I learned later that we would actually go and plant these trees ourselves.
I’ve also learned over this last nearly-a-year that relationships change after a child dies. That people who we were once close to, become distant and sometimes disappear entirely. That some relationships cannot sustain my inability to communicate regularly, that I do not have the energy or desire or will to maintain others that were once very important to me, central even. That some will keep calling and texting and sending gifts even with little to no response from me for weeks and months and sometimes never and maintain the relationship for me, completely one sided because they know, someday, I will b back. That those relationships closest to me become deeper, become strained, even out again, feel like old times, need to figure out new ways to be, ebb and flow with my grief and my process. That there are people who come out of the woodwork, who have been in my life peripherally or are relatively new but who all of the sudden become beacons and support beams. My “boss” Cuqui became just that: someone I just met who and known forever. Who I’ve canceled on, never gotten back to, forgot to do what I’ve promised, and in return she sends me little notes at least weekly, brings me lunch only to find me in a puddle of tears as I open the door to greet her and then listens to me for hours never getting to the lunch she prepared, writes encouraging words on my Facebook posts, never rushes me and always expects me to be exactly how I am, whatever that might be. She is a pillar of light in my dark world. Her gifts seem never to stop coming. Her presence and patience perhaps the most valuable among them.
So today we go to plant trees together, nearly a year later. We get lost getting there, I get teh car stuck in the mud and also manage to be halfway into the street. We have two tired girls with us, who don’t really want to hike and dig in the wet cold. I arrive flustered and irritated and it’s only 9am. We gather to listen to the organizers, who thank this one and that, talk about the mission and then mention that many of us here today are here for someone who is no longer with us. I’ve been herding the girls, while Danny has run back to the car for warmer clothes for them and all of the sudden there is Cuqui as the poem is being read and I am crying because my baby died. Because I’m standing out here and I don’t want to plant a heart or a tree nor give it my vein nor my muscle. I want to be herding my toddler too. I want to spend March 16th planning his first birthday, because he is here, not planting trees because he’s gone. But what else am I going to do but try every damn way to honor him, every way to fill this nearly 11 month whole in my life where my son should be. I don’t want this to bring Cuqui comfort. I don’t want her to believe that this is helping me because it isn’t. Because it’s the same as the altar and the Facebook page and the 6 month ceremony and the tattoo and the jewelery. It’s empty. An attempt to fill this unfillable void, to heal this fatal wound. I want to tell her and the lady reading the poem that this whole thing is an empty charade and nothing will help.
Except what I do is lean into her and cry. She saw Danny go, heard the woman start talking and floated over to hold me up just before I fell over. Again.
This healing, the slow stitching up of this wound, it doesn’t look anything like anything else I’ve ever been through. I spent the rest of the day in a stupor of awe and gratitude for all that she and her partner and her business brought to my life. How my little fetus son, walked me into that place and then insisted I get connected there. I applied, then emailed, then emailed again, then had a friend put in a good word until I finally got an interview at 7 months pregnant, not able to hide it anymore, sure they weren’t going to hire me and then they did on the spot. I worked there for 2 months and then my kid was born and died and I never went back. Except they kept gifting us time there as clients. She kept messaging me and staying connected and gently reminding me that she was always there. So, I went back, again and again.
So, I stand there with her arm around me, back in protest that any of this is happening, and it feels like the wound is tearing open again, but it’s not. It’s healing up a little more, it’s just that the healing hurts, too. It’s that this is both empty and full. It is both heartbreaking and healing. It is both meaningless and the most important thing to do. Just like everything else now. It’s both: everything and nothing. Never simple anymore.
We meet up with our group. Our group, of course, because this kind of thing always happens now, is represented by a child’s handprint. I laugh to myself “This must be the dead baby group”. But no, we go around and introduce ourselves and everyone is there for their grandmother or their elderly mother and we are there, and my husband says for us, for our son who died and Cuqui says, we are here for Harvey too and I barely choke out my name.
We hike down and we talk and joke and laugh and take care of the whining children. We get to the site and jab our shovels into the soft earth, step on them and wiggle them around. We do this in a square, inviting the girls to do it too, and dig up the earth and look for worms and shake the plants out of their pots and tear apart their roots and bury them and pray that they will live. I at once wish we had brought some of his ashes to plant here and tell myself I’m never coming back here. I can’t bear it if one of these plants dies. If I buried the root collar to deep or didn’t pack it tightly enough or not fully spearate the roots and I come back to find dead trees for my dead baby. And then I think, “Let’s do this next year. Let’s come hike here and watch these trees grow over the years and teach Vesta as she grows about xylem and floem and conservation and survival of the fittest”. And then I think, these stupid trees get to live and my kid died and I don’t want to plant a single one. And I jab and step and wiggle and look and shake and tear and bury and then do it again.
And so do Cuqui and Sue. I imagine them now, just doing the work, enjoying it, finding meaning, being the stability to our choas. Sue finds a “raised bed”, a fallen log covered in the softest pillow of moss any of us has ever felt and plants a baby tree right on top of it. We use it as a marker, so that when we come back, we can find Harvey’s trees. And it means everything. And the healing hurts less for now. There is a marker now. A place to come to. Where people who loved him came on a Sunday morning and hiked and dug and planted and cared for a whole grove of trees. Because that’s what we humans do. We heal. Even though it hurts.