“Are you crying?” asked Ollie, my four-year-old. “Yes, my sweet boy,” I whispered attempting to control my voice. We had been hiking uphill for about 30 minutes and were approaching our destination: one large ponderosa pine growing just off the trail. A deep feeling of missing surfaced the closer we got.
For two decades now, I’ve walked the gently sloping path to visit “Tree.” It grows in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, surrounded by large, flat rocks placed perfectly for rest and contemplation. Press your nose against Tree’s rough, thick bark, and you’ll get a gentle whiff of butterscotch. I come here for solace and peace and that elusive wisdom that feels more tangible in nature. It’s also where my sister and I buried my mom’s ashes one snowy December morning a couple years back.
That was the last time I visited this spot. So, when I planned to return with my sister and our three children this week, I knew intense feelings of love and sadness would rise. No surprise there. What astonished me was the speed with which they surfaced, as if my body remembered the power of this location ahead of my brain.
Both of my children have asked where my mom, their Yi Yi, lives now. That’s one of the reasons we’ve come – to celebrate my mom’s life and existence and openly talk about death. “She’s part of everything,” I say in hopes of them feeling her ongoing presence. “But mostly, she lives in your heart.” Who knows exactly how my children are incorporating this info into their world view. What I do know is that they climbed the trail without complaint, hugged this large Ponderosa Pine upon arrival, sat on those smooth flat rocks in silence, and allowed my tears, and a few of theirs, to come.
I realize that one day we may hike this trail and find that Tree has also turned back into earth, making my mom’s final resting place less easy to find. Nothing lasts forever. If and when that does happen, I like to think we will continue carrying my mom, my children’s Yi Yi, where we feel her the most: in our hearts.