We have the most beautiful double-flowering cherry tree in our backyard, one that produces blossoms so huge that everyone marvels at it. When Shawn and I put an offer on the house, in the spring of 2012, it was in full bloom and seemed to take over the yard. A year later, at Austin’s birthday party, the kids ran under the tree as pink petals blew everywhere, almost as though they were running through a snowstorm. At some point, Shawn told all the kids to stand under the tree and then he shook one of the branches, producing a million loose petals. A dozen tiny voices screamed with joy, and I thought, “everything is perfect.”
The first year after Shawn died, spring felt like a betrayal. How was the world so alive, so fresh and new, so green and pink? It was that time – in April and May – that I hit rock bottom emotionally. It’s odd, because you’d think that would have happened back in early January, when he died. But it took a few months before the pain was truly at its worst and I found myself in a place where I was so weak and overwhelmed and just sad that I didn’t think I would ever be happy again. One evening, I sat at the kitchen counter crying and watching the last light fade, and I saw that double cherry tree and I felt such hatred for it. I didn’t want anything to be beautiful.
Yes, things eventually improved, though it took a few months until I felt like I was getting pieces of my life back. But by that fall, I had some good days alongside the bad ones. The year marker was hard, but I made it, and I resolved to have a “year of yes” where I would (hopefully) make good things happen. When the weather started to turn and the daffodils pushed through the earth, I thought, “spring will be good this year.”
If anything, I was right back where I’d been the year prior. I felt awful and the grief was overwhelming – a product of a bad first post-widowhood breakup and the realization (yet again) that Shawn was really, truly gone. When I looked out my kitchen window, the cherry tree seemed to taunt me. “Look how beautiful I am!” it screamed, as I tightly balled my fists to keep from crying.
That year, like the last, did improve over time. In fact, by the end of the summer, I felt like my life was going to be okay. I was still worried and sad and overwhelmed at times by grief, but I also could see a life before me that had joy alongside the hurt.
And then spring of 2020 arrived.
Just in case you’re reading this far in the future, and that line doesn’t make you say, “OH! The Spring of 2020!” I’ll remind you that this was the time of Covid – and for me personally, this was when my dad left, I began teaching online and my kids started virtual homeschool. Also, it’s when my phone romance started with Chris. Separated by the pandemic and 1000 miles, it was our only option of connecting with each other for many weeks. In the late afternoons, I’d sometimes sit in the hammock I’d strung up on the double cherry tree and think about how scared and happy I was at the same time.
And I’d look up, and see the pink buds on the trees. By early April, the cherry tree had huge blossoms on it. Was it beautiful? Some mornings, after I’d finish an early chat with Chris, I’d look outside and think, “yes, it is.” Other days, when I was overwhelmed with single parenting and teaching and never leaving the house, I’d think, “no, it is not.”
Of course, eventually Chris showed up, just as the pink leaves were starting to fall. That first weekend, Becky took a photo of Chris and I in the backyard, blossoms all around us.
So much has changed over the past four springs.
Maybe more than anything, I can recognize how much my emotional experience has altered since I once looked at the cherry tree and felt disgust as its beauty. Just yesterday, as we came home from a run, Chris stopped in the backyard and gave me a long look. “This tree, and the pink petals everywhere – it reminds me of last year at this time,” he said. “I was so happy to be here, with you.”
He pulled me to him, and we held each other under the tree, as the pink leaves blew all over the place. It felt like springtime, finally.