letting go

Seven years ago we planted a tree in our old yard. It was a Japanese maple, Michael’s favorite. Our marriage had hit a crisis point, and while we did the necessary work to put our relationship back on track, that tree served as a symbol of our love and strength. As Michael patted the soil around the base of the tree, beads of sweat slowly slipping from his forehead to his shoulders, he said “if this tree survives, then so will we”.

When I planned my move from the old apartment, I couldn’t imagine leaving that Japanese maple prey to a new owner’s like or dislikes. What if they decided to re-do the garden and toss the tree? My friend tracked down this organization that would find the tree a new home for a modest donation. Our Japanese maple was supposed to spend its days nestled among one of the city’s community gardens. They were going to tell us where exactly, so the girls and I could go visit it. See, having had him cremated (his wishes), we have no place to escape to, where we can deposit some of our feelings of loss. Not that it ever leaves you, it’s just that having a resting place allows loved ones to stop, reflect, yet remove themselves a little with each visit from the feeling of loss, if that makes any sense.

Right now, his ashes sit in a box next to my desk, a post-it note tacked to it that reads “JP don’t forget me”. Across the street from my current apartment, there’s a large pot with a little Japanese maple like the fledgling one we planted, and it sends a pang to my heart. Every time I see a Japanese maple like the one that used to enjoy a shady corner in my old backyard, my loss feels heightened. Is my tree thriving, or is struggling to survive? When the tree was first removed by the New York Restoration Project in the winter of  2012 it was placed in a greenhouse because they said spring was a better time to plant it. Last time I checked in, I was told the tree was moved to a community garden, and they would get back to us with the exact location. Follow up phone calls and emails went unanswered. I’m sure to them it’s just a tree, but to me it was so much more.

That Japanese maple was a symbol of our love, of our commitment to each other and the life we built together. I’m starting to come to peace with having lost track of the tree. It’s out there somewhere. I just can’t touch it, or feel it.

I can’t see it.

But its roots are buried deep within my heart forever.

Music Pairing: Roadmovies by Bettie Serveert


  • thefoodpoet

    Maybe you will happen on it unwittingly while walking through the park. Perhaps you will pass it while playing with your girls in a community garden. Somehow that one tree might be able to become all Japanese Maples around the same size and age. It speaks of a love that is untethered and can only still grow.

  • Jill, The Veggie Queen

    Life is so bittersweet.

    As I look at my Japanese maples, I will think of you and send healing your way. We all have so many memories and associated feelings.

    A tree is wonderful for grounding, even if it forever lives in your heart.

  • Jacqueline

    I can recall various letting go moments and how gut wrenching they can be. Those things, a ring, a tree become temporary vessels for the feelings we then reclaim. Only, to lose them, refreshes the other, more significant loss they came to symbolize. I feel for you and am glad to see it seems you’re on the right track. (It’s just never a straight one, is it?) Best to you.

  • Rose D. Frenchtown, NJ

    Wow…This post weighs heavy on my heart. I pray that your Japanese Maple is thriving.

  • Georgie

    What a beautiful memory and a beautifully written metaphor. To me, I see you, the girls and the tree will all grow strong and well. It’s my wish for you.

  • Judy

    My gut feeling is that you will find that tree My mom planted a young Japanese maple at our old house in the 60’s. Every time I am in that town, I pass by. That tree is flourishing and is stunning. She would have been so pleased to know this. Always makes me smile

  • Tracey A

    Morning Jennie,
    O.K. you brought tears to my eyes again. You have such a way with words, I can not add anything to them. Just know that we are here for you, look forward to your posts and always wish the best for you.
    I have a jar of my mom’s and Tom’s ashes in the car. I have used some for my rose bushes too. I still have some left and am waiting for the right place.
    Maybe you should scatter some ashes by the lovely Maple tree close to you.
    WIshing you warm days and nights with the scent of maple clinging to them. Hugs, rainbows and maple leaves to surround and comfort you,

  • Lorette Lavine

    Jennie…so meaningful. I have personally come upon things many years later when I least expected to close a circle that I began so much earlier. My hope is that someday you will come upon your Japanese Maple!

  • Andrea

    As has been said, I hope for you that you find many a Japanese Maple tree along your journey in the years ahead. Sending love and strength. Thank you for sharing this part of your story and world with us.

  • Lenny

    I need to stop reading your posts at work. I’m not really a sensitive man, but your posts bring tears to my eyes more often than not. This one is particularly touching because I am going through the end of my marriage and we too planted a Japanese Maple. I now own the house, but I have this constant reminder of what once was and supposed to be. Thank you for your posts. They help to keep me grounded.

  • rescie

    How rude of them not to answer you but in reality, the tree is firmly planted in your heart where no one can hide it from you. And there it will continue to flourish.

  • Jennifer

    For anyone who’s experienced loss this hits home. What a beautiful story and a reminder of those people who are no longer with us. Sending you lots of love as you continue to heal.

  • Rhonda

    My kindred spirit grandmother had a beautiful Japanese maple in her yard. Like you, every time I see one, I think of her and the sweet bond between us. My heart aches for you, and I truly hope you find your tree. But, for both of us, the roots are buried deep, and that will never be lost.

  • Kristen

    Lovely post….I am always happy to see a new post from you in my inbox. I hope you and your tree cross paths again…I’d like to think you already have.

  • Julie

    Yes, your tree is out there somewhere. And Mikey’s love is all around you.

    I hope you get to see and feel your beautiful tree again xoxo

  • MaryLouise

    Jenny, Although it is sad that you don’t know where it is, you can look at it that it will always continue to thrive therefore the love continues. What if you knew where it was and whoever is its caretaker doesn’t take care of it–then you see it struggling to survive. Not knowing may be a good thing because in your mind and being, you keep that tree growing and thriving just as the love between you and Mikey continued to grow.
    You are a very strong woman and I thank you for sharing your strength with us. God bless you and your girls and I wish all good things for y’all.

  • Angie

    How terrible to promise such a gift and then not follow through. But then, that’s part of life isn’t it? I remember when my marriage ended I wouldn’t leave behind a simple iris plant that meant to me, everything… Time passed, many moves later, I have no idea where that plant is now, but what I’ve carried with me everywhere, and every single day is the memory of that life, and of that love. I wish you the very same.