The warm air of spring blows through my hair, reminding me that summer is drawing nearer. I feel the branch beneath my feet begin to sway in the breeze. I toss my pen and paper to the ground below and lie back against the sturdy trunk. I am suspended high above the ground, held up by only a wooden support. Here, the world is mine to control. I have no cares, no stress, and no worries. In my tree, I am free to think and feel without fear of being judged. Here, I think about life, loss, and love. Mostly, though, I think about the loss of my mom.
I was only 14 years old, a high school freshman, when my mom passed away. There was no warning, no time to “prepare,” and shock was my only emotion. I had plenty of family and friends, but at this moment, I felt completely alone.
I went through all of the so-called stages of grief, in no particular order and some more than others. I met with a counselor twice, spent days in the school counselor’s office, and held late-night crying sessions by phone with close friends. Though no one completely understood, I did have those who were willing to listen.
Various people told me I should find my own way to cope with this sudden loss. So I did just that. I read books about death, dying, and grief, known as “biblio-therapy.” I talked to friends, teachers, and anyone willing to listen. I even spoke to my Sociology class and managed to inspire a few classmates to share their own experiences.
Though being with other people helped, the best method of “dealing” was simply being alone. I needed a sanctuary, and I found one right in my own front yard.
My tree, which until recently I had been unable to climb, turned into a haven. Within its branches, I became shielded from not only the weather but the troubles of life. I was not hiding from life, but letting my problems sift through the leaves like beams of sunlight. I dealt with them one at a time, at my own pace, with no fear of ridicule.
Over the next three years, I started to become more comfortable with my unique situation. I talked less and started listening more. I became a counselor for my friends, helping with their problems and offering a shoulder to cry on. As much as I helped them, they helped me even more. I realized I could turn my tragic experience into something positive. It was during this time that I decided to become a social worker so I can help others as they have helped me.
As I watch the sunset through the branches, the sky looks even more brilliant from here, more vivid somehow. As the air becomes chilled by the darkening sky, I know it is time to leave for the night. I climb down slowly, savoring the feel of the rough bark against my palms. I make my way inside and settle into my bed, staring out the window. There, I see my tree, standing tall, proud, and ready for anything. I guess you could say the same about me.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.