I found the first trillium and I found acceptance

The trillium of southern oregon
The anniversary of when my first husband Bruce died has now passed. It has been 11 years of “that day.” Each year when April 21st approaches the sorrow returns.

Part of the honoring of Bruce is the my annual trek to find the trilliums. The flowers and the forest help me to find acceptance.

The following is an excerpt from my journal “Living again in the Land of After.”

April 7th
I found the first trillium flower on our land today as I hiked down to the creek. The trillium is a wildflower that begins as pure white then changes to lavender and then a deep magenta over a few days.

The flowers nestle in an outstretched hand of leaves close to the forest floor. Their arrival is a sign of the land awaking from the winter.

the trillium will turn a gentle lavender and then one day magenta I looked at the flower today and knew that it would purple by the April 21st, the anniversary of Bruce’s death.

Bruce loved these flowers, seeking them out each year. “I found the first trillium,” he would call out, asking us to join him in discovering life reborn.

I would go outside with baby on hip or child in hand. We would bend down and look at the flower being careful not to uproot it.

In later years our sons would see the flower as they came home from school, Bruce pointing it out with joy.

forest floor The trillium almost always grew at the edge of our old home, the home that burned the year before Bruce died. I can close my eyes and, even now, see the first flower surrounded by its elegant leaves on the hill by the back door.

It was not the most hospitable ground. The hill was shaded, muddy and covered with pine needles and a few mosses.

The trillium liked that place though. Maybe the hand of nature liked the idea of this fragile and wild beauty coming back year after year in a rugged place.

after the fire That trillium no longer blooms in that spot nor does the old house stand. A fire scorched the land and burned our home in 2004.

My sons brought in new topsoil to the place where the house once stood. New grass grew and a small garden bloomed in its own wild, tangled way.

The trillium, though, disappeared.

a walk in the forest Early April of the first year after Bruce died I had walked down to the creek at the base of the forested hill below my new home. I stopped and looked up the hill to our half-built home.

The house was sill in the process of being finished eleven months after Bruce died.

copper creek oregon I continued to work on the home but mostly I wanted to be outdoors.

I felt better hiking in the hills and that’s what I did that April.

I turned from the house and continued down the path to the creek.

wilsflowersFerns, mosses and wild flowers, small small wild flowers broke through the winter carpet of needles and leaves.

It was especially peaceful. Pines and firs created a canopy for the hillside and the creek below.

The trees of southern OregonA thousand plants surround me. Trees stood as pillars of strength around me, tall and ancient that they crowded out the sky

Yet for all the life and the wisdom of the forest that day, so close to the anniversary of Bruce death, I was alone in a way I never expected to be.

1968   I was 17 and Bruce was 20
1968 I was 17 and Bruce was 20
I did not know who I was. Bruce and I had been married for 36 years. We grew up together from been teenagers to older souls.

We have given birth to four sons, went through Vietnam and its lingering fingers of confusion and sorrow.

We had gone to college together, babies in back carriers. We built a home together out of logs.

We learned to love and make love and be parents in all its awkward, challenging rewarding phases.

We saw our children grow and leave home. We never were rich with money but rich with peace and love.

We did not possess each other and of that I am so grateful.

We supported each other in our individual passions and careers. In doing so we were two people who had this third, glorious entity of marriage and love.

I cried in the forestThat day, though, in the forest I felt like a three legged stool who had lost one leg. I was off centered, grieving so deeply I sank down to the forest floor near the creek and cried.

I had seen those news reports where women in war wail at the death of a loved one. It looked like their bodies and souls were being ripped apart by a grief so total that breath was not possible.

I knew what that was like!

Late at night in the months after Bruce died I would be overcome with sobs, my stomach aching from the spasms of grief. That day in the forest I again struggled for breath until sobs of loss could no longer be contained.

love In two weeks it would be the anniversary of when Bruce died.

All the days and months since his death I had been remembering “before” and the last times we walked together or had Christmas or kissed.

Once the year anniversary of his dying on April 21 came I would be living in my life of “after.”

April 22 would not just be the anniversary of the last time we went to the beach together the year before his death. It would be the anniversary of the first day of “after Bruce died.”

All the days that would follow would be taking me further and further away in time from our time together.

I would be Shaun without Bruce, not Shaun and Bruce. It didn’t seem fair or survivable.

copper creek I sat there on the forest floor by the creek crying, holding my knees to my chest my jeans, soaking with dew from the moss beneath me.

Bruce was gone. He could not hold me as I cried. I could not reach out to touch his face.

My tears mixed with the water dripping from the trees. It soothed me, settling me into softer, silent sobs.

In time my tears slowed and I opened my eyes to what was there, not just to what was not here.

trillium by the creek I saw a shimmer of white by the creek. I moved toward the flower, gentle not to disturb it.

It had been blooming for only a day maybe, its petal translucent white, the center a small cluster of yellow, its leaves unfurling and strong.

All around the flower the earth was waking from winter. The creek was full, the earth sodden from rain and melted snow.

copper creek in southern oregonHigher up the hill there had been wildflowers earlier in the month but here near the creek spring and warmth walked on slower legs.

I stayed there for awhile remembering faintly all the years with Bruce, the years of life.

For a few minutes the images of brain tumors and dying and loss and grief were distant.
Bruce felt near.

aging trilliumI returned to the spot each day as April 21 drew closer. Each day the flower aged, turning darker to its final deep purple.

That year I wanted to stop it from aging. As beautiful as it was in all its stages, I wanted the flower to stay young, alive and untouched by time.

It was my connection to Bruce and it too was fading and dying.

I was tempted to pick one and reserve in wax paper. I did not. Bruce would not have wanted me to destroy life before its time.

The next year and the next in April I walked the same path to the creek discovering the first trillium flower. I watched it age and return to earth.

Each year I learned more from the flower.

trillium in the sunI began to see the beauty of its aging and the perfect simplicity of its life cycle.

trilliumThe one flower was joined by more and more trilliums. They grew like a stream cascading down from the old house site and the place where Bruce’s trillium used to be.

I think maybe the fires and the waters after the fire took that old plant and carried its seeds down the hillside. There it found new roots and spread its beauty once again.

Out of the fire and flood and death new life emerged.

wild flowersEach year at this time I still feel the sorrow of Bruce’s dying. I wander the forest where Bruce walked.

I bend down to look at a plant or flower or spider seeing what I would miss if I was heading somewhere rather than being there.

These days I am able to remember more and more of the years of life and less of the months of Bruce’s dying.

Today when I found the first trillium I both cried and smiled.

forest trilliums 2There were trilliums all over the hillside in all stages of life.

Beyond the trilliums the trees, too, were living and dying. An eighty year old pine was tilting, ready to fall and a seedling fir was sprouting up by its side.

Moss was growing in lustrous patterns on a tree stumps and fungi grew on the side of a tree.

the forestThe forest talked me today in the way forests will whisper silently to those who stop and listen.

Do not let the yearning for more time
nor the fear of death
nor grief for what was or what will be gone soon
stop us from living fully,
eyes open,
heart willing to risk,
in this moment.

Oh my I loved Bruce
and oh my I love my new husband Ray now.
And even though I know the pain of grief
I would not miss this moment and all the moments of my life.

All things will pass

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