The space created by loss (a story of a tree)

I took the kids back to my parent’s home last week, while Rasmus was away on a training course. They still live in the house I grew up in, in a small English countryside village. Our house was nearly new when we moved in, with a smallish garden, but it had an enormous horse chestnut tree towering over it, the tallest in the village. Every year it gave us a huge harvest of conkers, which we’d eagerly gather up from the garden every day. When we got older and that game was less fun, neighbouring children would instead come and knock on the back door and ask to come in and collect them. I have always loved conkers – they are the symbol of autumn arrived for me, their shiny chocolate skins glistening through the sharp green shells.

That tree was cut down this year. After a long life and ministry of bringing joy to conker-collecting children, it began to rot inside, and so became dangerous to the many people walking along the footpath under it’s branches and my parents had to sadly order its felling. My mum worked from home that morning and sent us photos as the workers brought it down. It felt like the end of an era. My bedroom overlooked the garden and was closest to the tree. For all the years of my childhood I could lie in bed and all I would see from the window was its branches – bare and frosty in the winter, covered in candle blossoms and large green leaves in the spring. I loved that tree.

Last week was our first trip back since the tree had come down, and I was a little nervous about seeing the garden without it. But as I pulled open the sliding back door and stepped out into the garden, the first thing I felt was a sense of space. Kaya and I walked around the laid out flowerbeds and stood on the little wooden bridge across the stream, and I felt like there was so much more light and air in the garden. Looking up, there was such a large expanse of sky.

The loss of the tree has also brought new blessings to that space. No more blossom in the spring and conkers in the autumn, but instead the morning sun floods every corner of the garden where once the branches kept it in shadow. I miss the sound of wind whisking the leaves into a spin, but I got to sit and watch the clouds pass overhead in the windy autumn sky.

Later we went to visit our neighbours. They are elderly now, and we always drop around unannounced, but the door is held wide, and the kettle is already boiling by the time we get or shoes off. Oskar fell asleep on their sofa while Kaya watered the tomatoes in their back garden and we caught up on our passing lives. As we were leaving, I was struck by the emptiness in front of me, seeing our own garden from a new angle and I commented on the loss. “Yes”, my kind neighbour replied, “It was sad to see it go. But look, now we can see that beautiful Sycamore over the road. I had never looked at it much before, but it has such a lovely shape.”

We stood and took in this new view, one containing both loss and gain. An old friend gone, a new one revealed.

I know very often I look back and mourn the loss of good things that have passed, seasons that have ended, relationships that have gradually shifted. Didn’t someone say the only constant in life is change? I know that to be true, but I’m not always good about learning how to accept and embrace those changes. The space on the ground and in the air where that tree once stood is reminding me to look for the new blessings that have space to grow and flourish.