Originally published by Fathom Magazine
I used to call myself a morning person. The feeling of peeling back the covers in the early hours and stepping into a new day thrilled me.
I’m not sure what I am now, but I’m often awake in the middle of the night—my body either unable or unwilling to sleep through a full night. When I wake, the morning feels harsh, like a bright fluorescent light shining into my eyes. Pain washes over me before my feet have even touched the ground, and grief waits for me in the corner, an unwelcome and intrusive guest who will long overstay his welcome.
When I open my Bible to read, grief stands in front of me. I try to focus on the words, try to take in the passage, but I am distracted. The letters pool on the page.
In my morning fog, I put the water on to boil and look out at the trees in our backyard. A dogwood blooms pink and white amidst the grays and browns of early spring. This specific tree had a number of branches grafted into it so that it flowered the colorful blend every spring. When I see it, I think of my family—a family grafted together with my aunt and uncle’s family. Growing up, my cousins were more like siblings, and their house was as much a home to me as my own. My life grew out of the trunk of both my family and theirs.
In December 2016, my aunt was diagnosed with cancer. Less than a year later, in 2017, we buried her body. It was a few days before Christmas. But the cancer had taken over almost every organ. Grief became a regular visitor in each of our lives.
My uncle, having just celebrated his twenty-fourth anniversary less than a week before my aunt died, slept in an empty bed for two and a half months. He talked about her, about how he couldn’t sleep, about how much he missed her.
Then, less than three months after my aunt’s death, my mom texted me something about chest pains and come quickly and where is your cousin Emily? When we arrived at the hospital, my uncle was already gone. “A heart attack,” the doctor said, “We did everything we could but weren’t able to save him.”
As the water on the stove boils, these are the memories that flood my mind. I look out at the tree in my yard, its colorful pink and white blossoms defying the lingering winter, and I wonder if my family’s tree will ever stand tall again or if we have been hacked away and left to rot.