Trees Symbolize Son’s Journey

“It was time to dig up the thin maple that died last fall and, like Daniel, did not bloom in the spring.”

It was time. In an hour the November afternoon would be dark. With Baby Elizabeth in the stroller, we headed to our front lawn. Benjamin immediately began to run around, but my husband, David, seven-year-old Rachel and I stood beside the thin tree. Rachel held the order of ceremony that she had spent the afternoon writing. It was three pages of her own creation, the “service” for our family’s gathering that afternoon. Five members were visible to the human eye; the sixth member was held within our yearning hearts.

“We are very sad at this moment,” Rachel began to read from her printed page. “We think of the things we did together, and we think of the sad things that happened too, and it won’t be so hard. But we will still be a little sad in the heart.” Then she somberly passed the papers to my husband. She had written the next lines for him to read and they ended with, “It’s going to be hard to keep the tears away, but we will still dig up this tree, even if it hurts.”

And that was our reason for the ceremony. It was time to dig up the thin maple that died last fall and, like Daniel, did not bloom in the spring. It wasn’t just any old maple tree. The tree had so much significance, and that was why it had taken us all of spring and summer before we were ready to uproot it. Without leaves, it spent months in the front lawn. I was prepared to tell neighbors why we couldn’t dig it out of the ground, but no one asked why we kept a dead tree in our yard. Could they have known it was the very tree we planted three weeks after Daniel’s birth? Did they realize it died only a few months before our four-year-old son?

I had looked at that tree many times since Daniel left us, remembering how he played by it, rode his Cozy Coupe under it and ran around it. Just the other night when looking through the hundreds of pictures we have of him, I found one with him at age three in a hat and funny sun-glasses, holding the tree. Never in our wildest dreams, had we known both boy and tree would be gone in the same year. When the lines of the memories of Daniel had all been read, David dug up the dead tree. “Good-bye, Daniel,” I said within my heart.

It was as though a part of Daniel was again being taken from me. It was the same feeling of “good-bye” as I had felt when the men from the Vietnam Veterans had come to take the old, plaid sofa. Daniel had lived on that sofa during his last months. There he’d eaten cereal, watched videos, looked at books and thrown up.

David cut a few branches from the tree, and Rachel announced we could make a cross out of them to place in the little memorial garden we have by the side of the house.

Then, with David placing the maple over his shoulder, he and Rachel began to walk toward the nearby woods. Daniel had enjoyed the woods so much, and we knew it was a fitting place to carry his tree. I was reminded of the time he and Rachel had ventured in there alone and were rescued by the brother of one of our neighbors. And there was the time Rachel, Daniel and I, along with one of Daniel’s friends, went for a walk in the woods and got lost. It was raining when we finally found our way out. We had no idea where we were, so we asked directions to get home. A kind, elderly man offered to drive us home. The kids had been excited about riding in his Oldsmobile, while I just felt foolish for getting lost.

When we returned from taking the tree to the woods, David placed a stake in the ground where the tree had been. This was to mark where we wanted the next tree to be planted. The local nursery was to come that week with a new tree, given to us by friends who wanted to do something in Daniel’s memory.

What a surge of joy I felt when I looked out the window the next day to see the newly planted tree! We had chosen a gentle and drooping weeping willow, because there was such significance in its very name and stature. It would be a reminder to others of our weeping spirits over the loss of our precious son, and, to us, we would watch this tree grow and flourish, as our memories and love do for Daniel.
Copyright by Alice J. Wisler

Alice Wisler

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Alice J. Wisler, founder of a grief-support organization, Daniel’s House Publications, is a full-time writer and author of contemporary novels. In 1997, her four-year-old son Daniel died from cancer treatments. Since then, her writing focus has been on how to help others in grief. She gives Writing the Heartache workshops across the country. Through her organization, she designs and sells comfort cards/remembrance cards and at her Carved By Heart imprint, carves personalized remembrance plaques. When she isn't writing or speaking, she is promoting her novels---Rain Song (2008), How Sweet It Is (2009), Hatteras Girl (2010), A Wedding Invitation (2011), and Still Life in Shadows (2012). Her devotional, Getting Out of Bed in the Morining, offers comfort and purpose for those dealing with grief and loss. Her cookbooks of memory---Down the Cereal Aisle, Memories Around the Table, and Slices of Sunlight, contain stories of food and memories of children who have died. In 2009, Alice married Carl in Las Vegas, and they live with her three children in Durham, NC. To Listen to Alice's Radio show To learn more about Alice visit her website: and go to her blogs: and


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  • Heather says:

    Thank you for writing and sharing this Alice… tears flowing…heart touched. God brought me to your site and stories today… as I have been seeking Him in what to do with my writing and how should I help others in my loss of my daughter. I can relate so much to what your words share in your stories. I am touched by your life and your sweet Daniels life. I too have a son named Benjamin… and the willow is a symbol and connection to our daughter, Payton. She is buried beneath a willow and we planted one in our back yard after she died. We chose to bury her under one, as it was always a favorite of mine and the weeping branches gave such a powerful symbol to our hearts in losing Payton. Thank you for sharing this story… I am so sorry his tree died… I pray the willow brings healing and comfort to your heart and soul.

  • Thank you, Heather! Your words can touch others. I hope you’ll go to my website and see how you can submit something about your daughter at my Writing the Heartache Blog.