Apple Trees and Memories

by Carol Clum, Medford, OR

I stand beneath a sky of blue, the August sun warming my back. Apple perfume is in the air, and my grandchildren cannot resist plucking the golden globes from my backyard tree. It is one of those “firsts” that children of 3 and 5 eagerly share with us older folks. We are learning anew that the best apples do not come from a supermarket.

Apple juice drips to the grass beneath bare feet. Giggles float skyward. I close my eyes, lost in the memory of my mother transporting me and six siblings down a country lane to the local orchard, where we eagerly fill baskets, then collect 5 cents for each bushel of hand-picked apples. At the end of the day, we are rewarded with ice cream cones all around.

Even at that young age, before I knew that is not all apple pie and ice cream, I was learning about change. The orchard ritual meant summer was shutting down, autumn was just around the corner, the school bell would ring, and life would change – whether I liked it or not.

I cannot say that growing up with this knowledge of change prepared me for that September when my son died. His death can never be anything less than an unacceptable tragedy. Rather, I learned that the unexpected can and does happen. And when something truly terrible happens, we shut down like the end of summer vacation. I fear there will be no more apples and ice cream for as long as I live. There is no fun in being present for anymore “firsts.”

Fall has always been my favorite season. Now the calendar is cluttered with remembrance dates. I resist the forward movement from the days when he lived to the days after death – as life goes on, but he does not. My life has forever changed. My feelings about life and death have changed. I have changed.  

With each leaf that falls to the ground, I feel a loss so deep that, finally, I am empty like the barren trees. When he died, I expected the empty feeling 😮 last for the rest of my life. I had forgotten my childhood lesson: seasons change. While I grieve, I watch six years’ worth of seasons come and go. For me, there is no closure. I am not prepared to say goodbye to the past. But slowly, I have begun to allow change to happen.

If there is anything I can suggest to those who are the “less seasoned” in grieving, it is to remain open to the present. Be awake and aware as grief changes the way you feel and who you are. Seasons change, and the seasons of the heart can change. As I peer into the future, I no longer see only emptiness. Sometimes, I smile at memories of seasons past. Sometimes, I see blue skies and apple trees.

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