In April of 2010, just 16 months after my Robbie left the earth plane, I wrote THE BARK AND THE TREE for my (then) TCF Chapter newsletter.
I am at a different place, now, than I was then…
Yet sharing these words, these emotions, is no less honest, no less important. I will be adding a post script to the ending, 13 months after I initially wrote
The Bark and The Tree
My first night at our The Compassionate Friends meeting, after the meeting had ended, a few of us sat, talking. It had been only about a month since my daughter’s tragic accident and I was that combination of foggily numb, angry, cloudy and very depressed that most of you know so very well from your own journey. In my heart I knew that my life could never be anything but what is was at that moment.
An analogy was shared with me that evening that I absorbed as much as I could absorb anything in that fogginess. My daughter used to call me, not necessarily with great fondness, The Queen of Analogies. I had used them, often to her annoyance, frequently as she was growing up to illustrate points and teach lessons. They didn’t always make sense to her, but being The Analogy Queen, I coveted any good one that I heard and make up scores of others on my own.
Over the course of the following months after that night, I found myself drawn back to the Tree and Bark Analogy when people would ask how I was doing. “Today I only know The Bark”, I might reply, or “There may be a vague sighting of something that could be a tree”, I might say at another time. And then I would have to explain what I meant, having turned The Bark of the Tree into an analogy that spoke to my emotions.
In the very beginning following the death of our loved one, it is as if we are standing in a forest, but with our faces pressed up against the bark of a single tree. It is all that we can see. It blocks out the sun and obscures everything else. All we know, all we are, everything that exists for us is that blurred bark of the single tree.
As time passes, we might, some days, notice that there may be a butterfly lit upon that patch of bark, or a bit of life sustaining sap trickling upon the grain. Maybe, on one particularly day, we might notice that the patch of bark is actually part of a tree. And as some time passes, we might begin to notice that the tree has another that stands next to it; and another and another and that there is actually green grass making up their bed and blue sky welcoming their outreaching branches. On a particular day we might notice that The Bark on The Tree is actually part of a forest and that other life, other animals weave among the trees and fly among the branches. Our ears may hear the babbling of a distant brook or the songs of the birds. We might actually feel the warmth of sun or a cool breeze tickling our skin. And, then, some days, again and again, all we can see is The Bark.
The Bark never goes away. It is always part of our picture. Some days, especially in the beginning of what is now our Lifetime Journey, The Bark is all that we can handle, all we can see, all we know exists. Sometimes, even on that same day, we might get a glimpse of the trees or feel the sun, but then are pulled back to seeing only The Bark. Yet the forest remains, too, even if some times it is out of our ability to comprehend its existence.
Mostly, in the first year of the past 495 days, I’ve had my face pressed up against The Bark and was often aware of little else. Occasionally I would surprise myself, when someone asked, to admit that there were times, when I might believe in the possibility that I could see other trees someday. And once in a rare while, now, I do catch a blurred glimpse of The Entire Forest. Yet some days, especially the days that Robyn’s Void screams so loudly that I can hear nothing but how deeply I miss her and grieve for the absence of our daily teasing, talking and friendship, that there exists only the fogged coarseness of The Bark.
It was more than a year after my first meeting that I discovered who had presented the analogy to the women who had shared it so kindly with me that first night. She is Toni Wood, Barry’s mom, and had long been a Compassionate Friend to the members of This Ugly Club that we all, so deeply against our will, were forced to become part of. I was able to talk with Toni about the origin of The Trees and she shared this with me:
“…To tell you the truth I have no clue where I got that from… but I used it because it worked for me. I can see the tree now more clearly and the memories don’t always make me cry now ~ most of the time, but not all. When I first thought about this analogy all I could see was the ugly knot of Barry’s death. I could not see the good memories, the wonderful things he did and said. I had to step back and get my nose away from the knot in the tree so I could see more of the tree ~ his life. The roots of the tree ~ the family. The branches ~ his son and wife and friends. The leaves and flowers are the good and the bad things he did in his life. Even bad things are good memories now.”
Toni Wood, Barry’s mom
What I do know now to be true, is that The Bark will never completely go away for me, though, someday, it might become ‘the bark’. And I have found that sometimes I might be having a “Forest Moment”; like the day I officiated my son and my daughter-in-law’s outdoor Vermont winter wedding. Their vows were shared next to a gorge, a shivering waterfall and among the birds and trees. I was in “The Forest” when all of the sudden a painful spasm of Robyn’s Absence, hurled me back toward The Bark. I know that even at a time when I might feel the sun, that I can suddenly crash right back into The Bark of the Tree. That is The Reality of Missing My Child.
Perhaps the irony is that, as a family, we bought 30 acres of forest that we built our family home on together. We used to play among the trees and go “tree hunting” for games of hide and seek and scrap wood for our cozy fire circles. Trees always used to make me smile and feel comforted. Perhaps, some day, again, I will see them and appreciate their beauty. For right now, I am still all too well aware of The Bark. ♥Bettie-Jeanne Rivard-Darby, Ellington, CT Forever RobynApril’s mom May 2011 Post Script To Be Posted